ELFA’s emerging talent prepares to lead
Ask members of ELFA’s Emerging Talent Advisory Council (ETAC)
about the industry issues grabbing their focus this year and they won’t hesitate to tell you: They’re racing against the clock to prepare leaders to get the skills they need. “It’s vital for companies to have strong succession plans in place when senior leaders retire, and that’s what we’re here to do,” explains Lana Kralik, Chair-Elect of ETAC.
Harrison Smith, Vice President of Stonebriar Commercial Finance and a member of ETAC, shares helpful data: “The baby-boomer workforce currently contains 41 million employees, with 1–3 million people retiring each year since the mid-2000s. The following generation, Gen X, has not yet approached retirement and their workforce remains steady at 54 million. This growing gap represents a huge leadership opportunity for Emerging Talent, but it’s also a major challenge. Companies, particularly in the equipment finance sector, need to quickly train emerging talent for leadership roles.”
“It’s vital for companies to have strong succession plans in place when senior leaders retire, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Lana Kralik, ETAC Chair-Elect
In some ways, Millennials are already prepared. The eldest millennials entered the workforce during the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis and did so with higher levels of debt than any other generation before them. “Many of my Millennial peers felt more pessimistic about their futures than our parents or grandparents. Starting our careers in that environment has had a huge impact on meeting major life milestones,” recalls Smith.
By the twenty-tens, however, the economy recovered, companies were reporting record profits, and there were record low levels of unemployment. Millennials began climbing the career ladder during the time that Generation Z entered the workforce, and then came COVID-19. “Millennials have already lived and worked through two periods of immense uncertainty,” says Smith. “I think these events have made us stronger and more adaptable.”
That’s a positive, because in addition to acquiring conventional management skills, today’s emerging talent will need new tools for navigating uncertainty and change in the workplace. Martin Klotzman, Senior Manager, Marketing and Product Management at Ivory Consulting Corporation and Chair of ETAC, shares his perspective. “I believe the pandemic forever changed the workplace,” says. “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the office in the same way—and although we’ve adjusted, it’s still challenging to onboard with a company, have everything you need, and know how to go about asking for and getting everything [else] you need to achieve success in your role.”
Clearly the process is different now, whether you’re transitioning remotely to a new job or a new job function. “The soft skills you need to go about that and to excel in that way have changed,” says Klotzman. “We’ll need opportunities to develop those skills so we can better engage and collaborate with co-workers and customers. We’ll also need to know how to interact on different technology platforms. There’s a big difference between interacting in person and through a zoom call, and this can be hard for anyone.”
What’s more, new leaders will be managing more people, some of whom work in the office while others don’t. “We’re going to have to figure out how to keep everyone happy, in synch, collaborative and in tune, no matter where they work,” Klotzman says. “We’ll be balancing a lot of things, including the navigation of home life and work life. How will we ensure it all fits into our goals and that we’re engaged in both places?”
Matt Vazzana, National Account Executive at Huntington Technology Finance, says upcoming managers will need to know how to talk with their employees about change and constructive attitudes toward it. “If we learned one thing from the pandemic, it’s that change and uncertainty are realities that need to be dealt with,” he says. Vazzana adds that ETAC will address this topic at their upcoming Emergence2022 conference. “Successful businesses are the ones that embrace change, so we’ll have sessions on being open to change and strategies to navigate uncertainty at our upcoming conference.”
“Millennials have already lived and worked through two periods of immense uncertainty. I think these events have made us stronger and more adaptable.”
Stonebriar Commercial Finance
Emergence2022: “Take the Lead”
ETAC’s annual leadership development event for emerging talent occurs in person on July 14 in Superior, Colorado. Now in its fourth year, Emergence is a one-day leadership program designed specifically for emerging talent by emerging talent from ELFA member companies.
“This is a hands-on leadership workshop designed specifically for us,” says Klotzman. “We’re really excited this year about what will be a shift, a chance to get your hands dirty. We’ll be developing a toolbox and have a chance to interact and to role-play. You can expect to get outside your comfort zone.”
To be facilitated by Pierre Quinn, a motivational speaker and author of two books on leadership, Emergence2022 will focus on the soft skills needed to lead in a changing world. Kralik says teaching such skills is critical. “These are necessary tools for managers to have,” she emphasizes. “If you’re too hesitant or too critical, you can hold yourself and your company back.”
The term “emerging talent” applies not only to young professionals, but to persons of any age or background who are new to the industry and want to grow and develop. “Our goal is to make the conference representative of the industry, and we want to encourage diversity by bringing new and different perspectives to the table,” says Kralik. She also has a message for senior managers at ELFA-member companies: “If you have talented employees you think would benefit from professional development and additional professional relationships, send them to the conference,” she says. “It’s an important day where they can learn, forge new relationships and gain confidence.” Look for more details and a registration form at www.elfaonline.org/events
“If we learned one thing from the pandemic, it’s that change and uncertainties are realities that need to be dealt with.”
Huntington Technology Finance
Leadership Help from Companies
Having the opportunity to apply new skills and swim in the deep end is also part of the learning process. Smith shares his own experience as an example of how this can be achieved.
“Stonebriar Commercial Finance puts a lot of effort into generational diversity and gives emerging talent decision-making roles,” says Smith. “I entered the industry in 2015 when Stonebriar was starting up after meeting our co-founder, Steve White. The company was small but growing quickly and I was able to learn the business from the ground up by working closely with our executive team. Starting out during the early stages of the company has allowed me to wear several hats and make meaningful contributions across a variety of functions such as underwriting, deal structuring/pricing, securitization, portfolio reporting and operations. Stonebriar now manages a $3.5+ billion lease and loan portfolio with ~45 employees. When I started as a credit analyst, Stonebriar was an opportunistic start-up. Now, as a Managing Director, I can confidently say that Stonebriar is a major established player in the equipment leasing industry that I am proud to be a part of.”
Leadership Help from ELFA
Klotzman agrees that experience is a great teacher and says he’s found a lot of it within ELFA. “From a career acceleration standpoint, the most important thing I’ve done in my eight years in equipment finance is getting involved with ELFA early on,” he says. “By volunteering on several committees, I’ve met colleagues in the industry I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve learned about different job functions by using the educational material ELFA provides and getting face-to-face with people who live this life, and I’ve had an opportunity to sit on and moderate different panels, giving me exposure across the industry that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The resources provided have been invaluable. It would have been hard to gain a grasp of what my customers need without what ELFA provides.”
Kralik cites multiple advantages of ELFA involvement, too. “The opportunities have been tremendous,” she says. “In ETAC I’ve been able to find like-minded professionals in the industry with whom I continue to engage. In greater ELFA, I’ve found a supportive environment where new ideas can be discussed and tested, and educational sessions that aid professional growth. The Foundation also provides additional data and research we can use to see where the industry is headed—all of which have been greatly beneficial.”
Vazzana particularly values ETAC for chances to meet with and expand his network. “Networking in a remote setting is a real challenge, and it’s something we’ve all been faced with. But ETAC hosts virtual, across-the-industry networking events, and they’re really helpful,” he says. ETAC is also active on LinkedIn, which Vazzana says is as useful to current managers and business leaders as it is to emerging talent. “Using LinkedIn, managers can be aware of what’s happening in ETAC and engage their own emerging talent by sharing content or sending them to events,” he says.
ELFA’s new Knowledge Hub, which provides survey-based research to members, also gives a leg up to those new to the industry. “The Knowledge Hub provides the college education you need in equipment financing,” says Klotzman. “It’s a dynamic and interactive toolset that anyone can use and go through to learn or brush up on all of the fundamental components of the business.”
Another tool ETAC members recommend is the association’s “Ask a Leader” interview series (see box). In these, ELFA members with a range of backgrounds and experiences in the commercial equipment finance industry share their coming up in the business. “Hearing their stories and learning more about these accomplished professionals is fantastic,” Vazzana says. “You think about yourself as an emerging leader and know it’s powerful to have the information they share. It also provides you with ways to connect with these professionals and helps spark conversation if you get the chance to meet them.”
“[At Emergence2022] we’ll be developing a toolbox and have a chance to interact and to role-play. You can expect to get outside your comfort zone.”
Ivory Consulting Corporation
Smith particularly enjoys participating in ELFA conferences and volunteering on committees. “I’ve been to Emergence several times and to Capitol Connections,” he says. “I’ve also served on the Independent Business Council. These opportunities are fun and a non-traditional way of networking. They give me a chance to work with my peers and senior leaders in the industry.”
ETAC members also describe what might be called the “soft benefits” of ELFA. These include professional comradery and a commitment to changing for good. Klotzman laughs when he thinks about the changes he has seen in just a few years’ time. “It was 2014, it was my first ELFA convention, and I was the diversity factor because I was under 50!” he says. “Going from that experience to the present has been remarkable, because ELFA members have really walked the walk. They said they needed to make the industry more diverse, and they did it. It’s so nice to see an industry that encourages diversity of thought and background. Everyone is warm and welcoming, and willing to sit down with you.”
Resources for Emerging Talent
Are you new to the equipment finance industry? Visit ELFA’s Emerging Talent webpage at www.elfaonline.org/industry-topics/emerging-talent
for these career development resources—most are offered at no cost as a benefit of your ELFA membership.
Ask a Leader Interview Series:
ETAC members talk to ELFA members from a range of backgrounds about their experiences in the commercial equipment finance industry.
Career Development Series: From networking to managing up, discover valuable career tips in a series of articles authored by ETAC members.
This virtual leadership event for emerging talent will be held July 14.
Emerging Talent Advisory Council:
Works on encouraging industry professionals to get involved in the association early in their careers and attracting the best and brightest to the industry.
Emerging Talent Networking Events:
ETAC organizes free networking events for emerging talent throughout the year.
Equipment Finance Matters Podcast:
Get up close and personal with industry leaders.
Generation Next LinkedIn Group:
ETAC created this group to help young professionals share career building and relevant industry content, connect up-and-comers with influencers and engage and educate emerging talent.
The Fundamentals of Equipment Leasing and Finance online course and Principles of Leasing & Finance Workshops get you up-to-speed on industry practices.