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Ask a Leader: Interview with Jesse Johnson

Jesse Johnson

Learning from a Leader: Career Development Advice

Interview with Jesse Johnson, VP of Sales and Marketing, JDR Solutions

April 2022


Interview conducted by Will Mennesson, VP of Credit, AP Equipment Financing and a member of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council. Learn more about this interview series.

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?

My first job in equipment finance was in 2005 with a company named OSG Billing Services. At the time, they had one customer, and I was given a list of 50 other prospects. Probably 40 of those prospects were ELFA members. I asked the company if I could attend the ELFA Annual Convention, which that year was in Boca Raton. So, my first ELFA experience was the “Hurricane Wilma” conference. Traditionally you would have 1,000 people at this conference, but that year maybe there were 300 attendees. The advantage, I found, was that it allowed me to interact with people in a more comfortable setting, instead of a 23-year-old kid walking around a massive conference by myself. I was able to walk into a networking reception and go up and talk to some people.

What I have found to be beneficial in this industry, and especially within ELFA and the Foundation, is that if you go up to someone, they will give you the time of day. If you ask for someone’s help, they will help you to the best of their ability. They may not tell you everything if they are a competitor, but they will give you some useful advice. I have found the ELFA to be an extremely tight knit group of people and something I want to be part of. The more time and energy you put into this industry, and the Association and Foundation, the more you get out of it.

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

My first job was starting a leasing vertical for OSG Billing Services. However, it was not long before we attracted all the equipment finance organizations that were a good fit for OSG and maxed out what we could do in the market. So, the next progression for me as a service provider was the software space. Having the opportunity to work for a few different software companies, I ultimately chose LTi Technology Solutions based on their approach to the market. They were coming out with a new end-to-end platform, which in 2011 was the buzz. I was helping introduce a new product to the market and trying to help transform a traditionally smaller company into a larger company. I was leveraging 70+ customers I had at OSG and trying to pull them off competitive products to bring them on to LTI. From an ELFA perspective, that helped because I was able to get onto the Service Provider Business Council. That was a great experience, being with your peers, going to the Capitol Connections, getting to interact with VPs and C-Suite people.

Fast forward 10 years and I am at JDR in a VP role. Now I get to go to the ELFA Executive Roundtable. So, as you grow in your career, you can immerse yourself further in other ELFA opportunities that may present themselves. Since Doug Williams, our President, is already on the Service Council, I joined the Communications Committee. Basically, I just tell [staff liaisons] Amy and Chelsea, if they need anyone for anything, to throw it at me, and those ladies take me up on it!

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

The pandemic presented an unexpected challenge for me. Pre-pandemic, I was on the road at least two weeks per month. I love travelling, networking and being in front of people. Not being able to do that during the pandemic forced a shift in my strategy, which is where the Fireside Chats came from. I asked, “How can I connect and have fun meaningful conversations in a relaxed setting?” I started interviewing people I knew, and then I stepped out of my comfort zone to do it with people I didn’t know. I also founded Equipment Finance Cares, whose mission is to provide an educational and networking platform for equipment finance professionals to connect with industry thought leaders on best industry practices. Equipment Finance Cares is hosting a panel in Cincinnati on April 26, where Sean McKenna is going to moderate a discussion on the ELFA’s Emerging Talent Advisory Council (ETAC). We are excited to give an hour of the floor to our next generation of leaders, to get their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

What is the most rewarding risk of your career to date?

I want to first thank the previous organizations that I worked for. I’ve always been afforded a healthy marketing budget and the ability to travel and get in front of people, because that is how I excel. However, in both of my previous positions I eventually hit a ceiling in my career development and professional growth. Both times I asked, “What’s next? Where am I going to be in the next 3 – 5 years?” I wanted more of a senior role, however, there was a ceiling there. When I didn’t get the answer I was looking for, I didn’t just accept it. I went after what I was looking for and found an organization that shared the same vision for my future that I have.

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

Go to the ELFA website, look at the Board of Directors, look at who is on the committees. Reach out to these individuals. Say, “I would like to learn more. Can you help me?” Tell them what you want to do. Traditionally, people in this space will help you out. Ask if they have any recommendations, and who they think you should talk to. Another piece of advice I have would be to reach out to people at ELFA. Go to Amy Vogt, go to Alexa Carnibella, go to Julie Benson. Ask them if there is something you can do, or a committee you can volunteer for. They will put you in touch with someone, because ELFA is a volunteer organization. The next thing you know, you will be on a call with 10 people you have never met before, and you may make some friends for life on that call. Finally, my last piece of advice is not to settle. If there is a path that you want to take, get there. You may need to make some tough decisions, and not all might be successful, but don’t settle.

What are some of your next goals or steps you would like to explore and/or achieve?

I want to continue to grow along the trajectory of my career. I started out as an Account Executive, District Manager, Senior District Manager, Senior Account Executive, Director of Sales, VP, C-Suite, President. I want to continue to climb that ladder. Maybe the Chief Revenue Officer of an organization.

I have only worked for service providers since I joined the industry in 2005. If instead I worked within operations at an Independent or a Bank, maybe I would move to credit next. Become well rounded. Try to learn how every department works, and then you can find out what you really want to do. Also, from a sales perspective if you know operations or know credit, it makes everything easier. Knowledge is power.

Given ELFA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, can you give some perspective on what emerging leaders in organizations can do to promote diversity and inclusion?

Establishing the ELFA Equality Committee a few years ago was a great first step. We definitely have the right guy leading it in Scott Thacker. As far as myself, we recently posted a COO role at JDR. I reached out to diverse candidates and told them I think they might be a good fit for the position. I think of myself as a progressive leader. The old guard has value, but we also need new-school thinking. We need to understand that by having a diverse workforce, new ideas will come up. With ELFA providing some good metrics regarding the profitability of a diverse workforce, this will continue to push the industry in the right direction.