by Tony Golobic on Monday, January 25, 2010
Reprinted from LeasingNews.org (1/25/2010)
The Secret of Our Success
by Tony Golobic, GreatAmerica Leasing
"Tony Golobic of GreatAmerica Leasing Corp. is the leader of a very successful company that has kept a relatively low profile. GreatAmerica has had an exceptional record of growth. In 2009 they reached $1 billion in assets, and in the 2009 Monitor 100 survey they reported 2008 origination volume of $430.9 million, a tremendous volume for an independent small ticket vendor leasing company. They were one of the few leasing companies that was able to tap the securitization market in 2009. The company has always been very conservative in its credit approvals, financing and accounting, areas that have derailed a number of their competitors." - Bruce Kropschot, The Alta Group; Leasing News Advisory Board Member
This is a new series to highlight companies who have been successful, why, and their recommendations to you.
Chairman and Founder of GreatAmerica Leasing
It has been 38 years since I came across my first equipment finance transaction. Since then our industry has been good to me. Although much has changed during these years, the industry today remains vibrant and a good place to grow one’s career. Not only has our industry grown significantly, but it became much more complex. At the same time, it seems, much of the industry became commoditized. I never wanted to be a part of a commoditized business; there just doesn’t seem to be much value and staying power in a business based on lowest rates and easiest credit. Anyone can do that. I also don’t think one can build lasting market leadership based on lowest pricing and easiest credit; there is always going to be another fool willing to push rates even lower.
I wanted to be a part of a company that would build a lasting market leadership by aspiring to standards of excellence so high in everything it does it would have no competition. This was our vision 17 years ago when we started GreatAmerica Leasing Corporation and this remains our vision today. This was not only our vision, but it was also our reason for starting GreatAmerica. Every day, we make another step on our quest for excellence. Like perfection, excellence is a continuous process, a worthy goal to aspire to and a vision that fills one with pride. I am so thankful that today we have 314 “GreatAmericans” who share our pride.
This vision required a structure that would maximize human potential; one that would continuously engage each and every member of our GreatAmerica team no matter how large we become. Our strong belief in the potential of people provided the philosophical backdrop for an evolution that was to come. At GreatAmerica, we don’t have managers and we don’t have executives. We have leaders. Every “GreatAmerican” is responsible for managing herself or himself. At GreatAmerica, I am not the only one losing sleep thinking, worrying and dreaming of GreatAmerica; there are 313 other “GreatAmericans” who also are thinking, worrying and dreaming of GreatAmerica.
To this end, we transformed our organization into a team-based structure. Our organization chart looks a little different than most; it has our customers (dealers and smaller lessors) at its center, like a sun, surrounded and orbited by our teams, which in turn are supported by our senior leadership. We drew this organizational chart to constantly remind us of who makes us successful; our customers. The idea was to establish teams of cross-trained individuals with intimate knowledge of their customers, and these teams would be responsive to their myriad needs.
The scalability of the team structure also preserved the intimate, small-company feel as GreatAmerica expanded. Teams of empowered individuals rising to their potential and making informed decisions continue to benefit our customers today. Everyone at GreatAmerica participates in a bonus structure that integrates personal and company goals to help grow GreatAmerica and reward individual accomplishments. Our people have a great degree of autonomy in creating their own personal fulfillment. This, in turn, fuels our high retention rates and internal satisfaction levels which translate directly into a positive and consistent customer relationship building. We want our customers to say “wow” when they get off the phone with us. We call this the GreatAmerica Experience.
We also define our customer a little differently than most financing companies. We resolved that the equipment dealers/leasing brokers are our customers and that the lessee is the customer of the dealer/broker. The dealer/broker, our customer, puts food on our family tables. This foundation guides our prospecting and marketing efforts and has engendered great trust with our customers. Not all equipment dealers, just like not all leasing brokers, are the right customers for us. We want just the best ones; the ones who have long-term vision, who want to build strong and lasting relationships with their customers and with us. We used to work with a large number of brokers, but 80% of our business was done with just a handful. That didn’t work well and we pared the number down. We will continue to focus on this process with the goal of doing an increased amount of business with a smaller number of brokers. It’s a matter of finding the right brokers with the right vendor programs with whom we can develop strong and lasting relationships. It may sound strange but our goal is to have fewer brokers for whom we do a lot more.
Our ethical focus has underscored our direction as a whole, ranging from the definition of our customer (above) to the creation of our Truth in Leasing Statement, which is a document we give our customers to give to their customers. It’s an industry-first statement that is essentially a leasing bill of rights for the lessee and outlines what they can expect when they enter into a standard agreement with GreatAmerica. It also draws a line in the sand by capping residual positions and stating there will be no hidden fee tactics common in many leases.
This “no surprises” approach and our financial performance have also formed trusting and valued relationships with our financial providers. We run an open operation and are well attuned to the transparency standards the asset-backed securities market expects. Since 1995 we’ve had nine successful term securitizations of over $2.2 billion in total (the last one, for $454 million, closed in November 2009). In these days of restricted credit, we have record amounts of open credit lines. Our ample access to the capital markets is the reward for our disciplined, common sense approach to credit approval process. Steady and loyal support from our financial partners has also helped us deliver a level of consistency and service very hard to find elsewhere.
Our resolve of not being everything to everyone has helped us direct our resources into thoroughly understanding our markets. The mission of GreatAmerica, plain and simple, is to help our customers become more successful. Each of our five business units specializes in their respective industries, immersing itself into the market it serves and tapping into the complex dynamics that go into making a business successful. Our expertise is gained through intense and continuous research into the industry served by that unit, business councils, industry events and internal training. The knowledge gained through these activities informs all levels of the company and creates a fertile environment that fosters innovative thinking and problem solving.
Fortunately, knowledge is not a static concept at GreatAmerica, and creating a fluid environment begins with an easy flow of communication among team members and company leadership. Facilitated by an open floor plan with no walls, this communication is vital to identifying opportunities and bringing meaningful change to the markets we serve.
The relentless pursuit of our vision to reach the standards of excellence so high in everything we do that we have no competition has enabled us to grow to an asset size of over $1 Billion. We have never stopped growing, not even in the past two years. We now are looking forward to the day, not far away, when we will reach $2 Billion. We will do that by getting better every day and by truly helping our customers become more successful. Each time a customer hangs up the phone with one of our team members, we want them to think: “Wow, it was a great day - the day I started doing business with GreatAmerica!”