Equipment Leasing and Finance Association - Equiping Business for Success

Ask a Leader: Interview with Dave Walton

Dave Walton

Learning from a Leader: Career Development Advice

Interview with Dave Walton, President and CEO at Caterpillar Financial Services

November 2019


Interview conducted by Garland Brooks, Sr. Advisor Business Enablement & Sales Optimization, Dell Financial Services and edited by Lexie Dressman, Assistant Vice President, Huntington Equipment Finance. Both are members of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council. . Learn more about this interview series.

When did you first join the equipment financing industry and what has been the trajectory of your career?

I joined Cat Financial in 1989 after spending four years with an Illinois bank. In my first 10 years with the company, I held various positions, starting as a Credit Analyst, moving around spending time in portfolio management, collections (the foundation of my career), customer service and sales. In 1999, I became the Corporate Portfolio Manager, with responsibility for the corporate finance portfolio, managing policy, reporting and analytics. I was named U.S. Southern Region Manager over Dallas in 2001. From 2003 to 2011, I had the opportunity to work in the European and Asia-Pacific markets. I served as the Managing Director over Northern Europe, followed by Vice President of nine Asia-Pacific offices, while forming Cat Financial’s global mining finance organization. I returned to the U.S. in 2012 as VP over U.S. and Canada Sales Operations, Corporate Accounts and the Cat Financial Commercial Account product, while retaining my previous mining responsibilities.  I was named Caterpillar Inc. VP and President and CEO of Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation in April 2017.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own professional development? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge occurred when I took an opportunity in the field as a Territory Manager in Houston after having been behind a desk for nine years. Moving from Portfolio Manager to Sales was a completely different skill set, but I had to take some risks to advance my career. I started small, building relationships with some of my smaller dealers, and once I established myself and got more comfortable, I started approaching some of the larger dealers.

When did you first get involved with ELFA and how have you been engaged as a member thus far? How has being in ELFA helped your career?

After returning from my overseas assignments in 2012, I got involved by serving on the Captive & Vendor Business Council Steering Committee for multiple terms. ELFA offers a wealth of knowledge for, and about, our industry. It offers a perspective on the industry you cannot get from your dealers or customers, and helps you see trends and identify emerging threats. The ELFA’s connection to and work with our government is also very valuable. Through initiatives like Capitol Connections and LeasePAC, we can connect with officials that shape our industry policies.

What is the most rewarding risk of your career?

My most rewarding risk goes together with my biggest challenge: moving to the field and taking the Territory Manager position in Houston. Building relationships with the dealer base was challenging, but a very rewarding assignment. It offered a perspective on our business I could not see working a desk job and helped me shape the strategy I live every day to help Caterpillar, our dealers and our shared customers succeed through our financial solutions.

If you had to pick one, which is more important when considering a hire—a soft or technical background? Please select only one, and please include which soft or technical skill is most beneficial to success.

Soft skills are most important, unless the position calls for something very specific where a technical background is a hard requirement. At the top of my list are adaptability, results-oriented, accountability and self-awareness. You must be open to change in our industry, know who you are and how you fit in with the company mission, hold yourself accountable for your actions, and recognize how those actions can impact the company. Soft skills are not something you can easily teach, but certainly can be strengthened. Having the above characteristics allows people to fit in better with the team, which ultimately translates to better collaboration, which your customers see. That builds their loyalty to the company.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone just entering the industry?

First, whatever job you have right now, treat it like it’s the last job you will have. Do your best work and bring it every day! Second, have a vision of where you want your career to go and don’t stretch yourself too thin. Knowing where you want to wind up and prioritizing those efforts will help you make your next move more intentionally. Even if you are starting out in your career and just want to improve your general knowledge of the company or the industry, set goals and execute. Last, and probably most important, know your business. How does it make money, what are the differentiators, what are the gaps and what does each department do to help the overall mission? In short, understand more than just the function you are performing. This will pay great dividends over the course of your career.

Given that ELFA recently updated its mission statement and strategic plan to affirm its commitment to diversity and inclusion, can you give some perspective on what your organization has or is doing to promote diversity and inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion are top priorities at Caterpillar. Cat Financial has eight employee resource groups (“ERG’s”), and D&I metrics are shared regularly with leaders and employees to identify areas where we can improve. The composition of our teams is essential to our performance, and our ERG groups bring tremendous value to our organization. They help solve business problems and generate partnerships within the community. Extending this initiative to our local communities, we have relationships with other local companies and schools. Our ERG groups provide mentorship, education, training and resources to small business owners and students to help them achieve their career goals.