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Ask a Leader: Interview with Sherrie Kalajian

Dave Walton

Learning from a Leader: Career Development Advice

Interview with Sherrie Kalajian, Senior Director – Syndications, Presidio Technology Capital

September 2021


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

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

I joined the equipment finance industry after graduating from Florida State University. I worked in the commercial space at GE Capital, which at the time was the largest independent equipment finance company in the country. Though I was not in a specific training program, I made it my goal to diversify my experience as much as possible. I started in an operations role and quickly moved into several regional marketing support positions. I thrived in an environment of continually learning something new and always growing. I was also fortunate enough to receive “on the job” training from some great mentors. In one of my favorite roles, I created and led a three-day workshop for all new sales, marketing support and credit employees hired in the Southeast. I loved it!

Early in my career, my group was reshuffled, and I was offered a credit position at GE Capital in Atlanta. This had always been a target relocation spot for this Florida girl, so I was thrilled to take the offer. I spent five years in that role and although it was not my favorite position, the experience was invaluable and helped to round out my background. I moved into sales for two years and was then offered a corporate marketing position in GE Capital’s Technology Management Services division due to another corporate reshuffle. Initially I was focused on an acquisition project, press releases and keeping our website current. Then the 1996 Olympics came to Atlanta and I found myself planning entertainment for 180 customers from across the globe.

After becoming a Quality Blackbelt, a total of 12 years with GE and another restructure on the horizon, I decided to again change direction. I left the industry to stay home with my young children and then run a small business. Several years later, I found myself back in the industry after a former colleague offered me a Syndication position at Presidio Technology Capital (PTC), a vendor captive equipment finance company. My broad experience lent itself to this quasi sales, quasi credit position and again I was given the opportunity to learn something new. Soon thereafter, I moved into my first management role. Today I serve on the PTC executive management team and focus on leading, building, developing and implementing strategies, which include managing our funding partner program, contract structuring and support, contract negotiations and leading product development.

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

The biggest challenge that I faced in my own professional development was the desire to learn more than what time or the budget would allow.

First, I took advantage of new opportunities offered to me throughout my career and relied on my network to learn and grow into these roles. I attended industry webinars (often presented by ELFA) and I utilized the ELFA online resources for self-study. I knew I had to be proactive and intentional if I wanted to continue to learn and grow.

Second, I invested in self-directed professional development that I did during non-business hours. I read business, growth and leadership books and then I applied select principles from them. I signed up for training sessions, attended meetings and webinars, listened to podcasts and hired an executive coach. It has been a great journey that I suspect will never end.

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?

About 10 years ago, I attended my first Funding Conference in Chicago. I have attended each one since and consider it to be an extremely worthwhile investment of time and money. I meet with funding partners, attend sessions covering relevant industry trends such as electronic signatures and chattel paper, accounting or tax law changes, and current customer demands, all while expanding my personal and corporate brand. Irrespective of your functional area, there is something for everyone. In addition to attending the Annual Convention, two years ago I attended Capital Connections in Washington, DC, where I met with government officials to both promote our industry and provide feedback on current and future policy affecting our industry. It was an awesome experience. I currently serve on ELFA’s Captive & Vendor Finance Business Council Steering Committee, where we address the unique needs of this industry segment and serve as a liaison between member companies, the Board of Directors and the professional staff.

ELFA has provided me with access to industry data, trends, mandates and initiatives through its robust research, communications and advocacy engine. Staying informed provides me with the opportunity to better lead my organization and guide its policies and initiatives. It has provided professional development and meaningful networking opportunities that might not otherwise exist. ELFA is a distinguished organization dedicated to helping you grow both personally and professionally.

What is the most rewarding risk of your career?

Taking a position that required me to stretch and grow professionally. My manager who had 15 years more industry experience than me was retiring. I had several months to prepare myself to step into his shoes (actually his riding boots—he was an avid motorcycle enthusiast). I took the position and felt like I was drinking from a fire hose for the first six months. It probably took a year to fully get my footing, but my new manager believed in me and helped me to navigate challenges as they arose. It was a great opportunity, which I embraced and thoroughly enjoyed!

If you had to pick one, which is more important when considering a hire—a soft or technical background? You can’t pick both, and please include which soft or technical skill is most beneficial to success.

Hands down, soft skills are more important since technical skills can be taught. The most important soft skill is having a positive, “can do” attitude. It allows you to be grateful, it motivates you to overcome challenges and it helps you to add value to others. This allows you to grow and to grow your company.

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

  1. Learn as much as you can, work hard and work smart (all while maintaining a reasonable work-life balance).
  2. Assuming you are early in your career, let your voice be heard, but remain patient. It will likely take longer than you would prefer to reach your goals or that next promotion, but that is okay. Become valuable to your organization in the meantime.
  3. Your career is a journey. Always help others along the way (this applies to your personal life as well).

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 done or is doing to promote diversity and inclusion?

Presidio definitely fosters an inclusive environment. Some of our more recent activities include starting a scholarship program specifically geared toward underrepresented groups in various STEM fields and launching Employee Resource Groups for employees who share an affinity to connect, develop professionally and foster an inclusive workplace. Our Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion recently moderated a Fireside Chat discussing Challenges and Opportunities for Women in the Workplace. We will continue to learn and grow as a community. Learn more about Presidio’s DEI initiatives here.

I would be happy to have a 15-minute Coffee and Connect with anyone that I can help – feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.