Be easy to work with.
Offer a simple, no-hassle application process.
Respect a client's time, and get them a speedy "same day" approval.
Be transparent and clearly disclose all lease and loan details.
Work effectively with all businesses who need us, from small companies requiring funds to grow to vendor partners looking to offer their own customers credit.
Answer any question a client may have.
Handle financing for all manner of equipment, vehicles, and software.
Be flexible in collateral and other capital requirements.
Say "yes" when the bank says "no".
Lastly, be a company who clients return to again and again, and enthusiastically recommend to others.
Tell us about your childhood – at least in a business sense. Were you always an entrepreneur? In other words, were you the kid with a lemonade stand?
Great question. The entrepreneurial spirit is definitely in my DNA, as my dad and both grandfathers created very successful businesses from the ground up. Growing up, I had a strong desire to understand how money, banking, and finance work. As a young kid I even bought one share of stock in a few public companies (my dad had to be listed as custodian for a minor) and I would actually read the annual reports that came in the mail! With the combination of heredity and passion, it's no wonder I ended up founding a finance company.
Then you went to college – Auburn, right? How did that help shape your path?
Yep, when I initially hit the Auburn campus my career goal was to play strong safety in the NFL, but after a dose of reality I realized I needed to focus on getting a degree. I was good in math, and an advisor had originally recommended I major in engineering - but after a couple semesters I recognized that wasn't what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life. Although deep down I wanted to major in finance, I changed my major to accounting because I knew "all the old guys" in the business world would give me a little respect if I passed the CPA exam. And looking back, that was a really good decision – to me, accounting was way easier (and more fun) than engineering! Life was good.
What drew you to equipment finance?
Upon graduation, the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want to be an accountant (or an engineer) – but my college advisor convinced me to take a job in the audit department of a public accounting firm. This time the advisor's recommendation paid off. As an auditor, I got an all-access pass to see the financial inner workings of companies in a variety of industries, and despite being fresh out of school, I got plenty of opportunities to speak with presidents and vice-presidents of those companies. It was there that I discovered equipment finance. And it had all the allure that prompted my fascination with finance as a kid.
Now the big question – how (and why) did you start Crest Capital?
My original vision was creating an investment entity to fund true leases and shelter the interest income with the depreciation. That's the boring version. In other words, it started out strictly as an investment technique. At the time, I was also a partner in a security guard firm that I started with a couple of other guys. We built that guard firm into one of the largest in Atlanta, and sold it to a national competitor prior to the Olympics. Using the proceeds of that sale, together with some bank lines, Crest Capital was catapulted into position to become a leader in small business equipment financing.
And why the name "Crest Capital"?
You'd be surprised how often I'm asked that question! And it's an all too simple answer. I was brushing my teeth, getting ready to head over to the attorney's office to file the incorporation papers when he called and asked me what I wanted to name the company… and that's it. No meetings, no focus groups, no anything… if he called ten minutes later, it might have been named "Coffee Capital" or something like that.
In terms of client base, were you a more regional company in the beginning?
We did start out doing most of our business in the southeast because we initially concentrated on fostering relationships with local equipment dealers. Plain and simple, any place I traveled was an opportunity to grab the yellow pages (the internet wasn't invented yet!) and call local equipment vendors offering to come by and present our customer financing programs at their sales meetings. Once, I narrowly escaped being late to a good friend's wedding rehearsal while making vendor calls from my hotel room – and I was the best man! However, our geographic footprint quickly expanded nationally as many of our vendor relationships sell into other areas of the country or they're part of national dealer networks and refer us to other regions. As a result, we now have substantial business in all 50 states and some in Canada too.
You have a very strong internet presence now, but when you started, there was no commercial internet. Take us through some of the technological changes you've seen, and how you adapted to / utilized them?
One thing we've always done is make certain we are very open to new technology, and if it can help us, we embrace it. Long before the internet, the first major technological advancement for us was moving away from tracking everything in spreadsheets and towards database-driven software. Customer relationship management, credit files, documentation, collections data – anything and everything that can benefit from automation and quick retrieval became profoundly more efficient. Those efficiencies took a quantum leap with the advent of the internet. Many of the manual tasks – like checking trade data and public records - not only became faster and easier, the age of "big data" bureaus consolidated incredibly insightful information. That consolidated data made credit-decision software not only possible, but in many cases, better portfolio performance can be achieved by algorithmic scoring models. Today, we strive to strike a positive balance between technology-driven and human "gut feeling" decisions – we emphasize delivering lightning fast service while still maintaining the personal relationships necessary to earn the initial and repeat business of small business owners.
What makes Crest Capital successful?
Hands down, it's our people. We actually care about delivering exceptional results and exceeding the expectations of our business partners and customers. We'll anticipate, do the extras, and work hard so you don't have to. And we'll work late so it all gets done without delay. One of our corporate mantras is "No One Waits for Crest".
Who are your main clients in terms of business size, and why do you think they choose you?
The majority of our end user customers are small businesses with a staff between five and seventy-five employees. We also tend to partner with smaller dealers and manufacturers when providing point-of-purchase financing programs. Number one, I believe banks and institutional lenders may talk about efforts to increase small business lending, but they define "small business" as fifty to five-hundred employees. A five-hundred employee business is a lot of things, but "small" is really not one of them. Banks overlook most "true" small businesses – so, many of our clients seek us out after the big banks turn them away.
Second, most small business owners don't have the time and resources to go through lengthy financial disclosure reviews simply to finance a new piece of equipment or a couple of trucks – take a listen to our customers, in their own voices, constantly expressing appreciation after experiencing our simple process and quick turnaround – and it's readily apparent why they choose us.
Where do you see your industry going over the next decade from a lender's perspective?
Like it or not, in addition to standard personal credit reports, the "big data" companies have all kinds of data about us - transactional data, household interests, social media activity, and so on. Increasingly our industry will analyze that type of data to uncover new signals that will be included in our credit scoring models. Ultimately I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but if it enhances our industry's ability to avoid bad debt, it will help lower overall costs and probably lead to more small businesses qualifying for loans. In contrast, the looming risks of too much litigation and government intervention will likely increase the cost and diminish the availability of lease and loan products for small businesses. Despite those and other challenges, our product ("capital") is the lifeblood of business, demand will always remain high, and we will continually find new and innovative methods to meet the needs of our small business customer base.
Where do you see your industry going over the next decade from a borrower's perspective?
The equipment finance industry as a whole will adapt to an increasingly demanding customer base that wants more control and more transparency. The loan origination systems of our time are currently closed off and customers are only offered generic transactional status updates – and I see that changing in a big way. For instance, the young people who will be the business leaders of the next decade won't hesitate to login to an online app using their Facebook username and password. What if we open up the process and allow customers to login to our internal system using Facebook? The customer and the credit manager work in the same system allowing the customer to drive data entry and see the whole process from the inside in real-time. As I mentioned before, innovation will steadily improve our loan products and services.
Can you give me a career highlight or favorite business decision – something you look back on and say "yes, that was really key"?
I've certainly had a bunch of highlights along the way, but like anyone who has ever founded a company and seen it through to success, the original decision to actually pull the plug on a good job and salary to venture off the beaten path… It's a defining moment by definition – and the vision must be exhilarating enough to keep you going, because the going gets very tough from time to time!
How about a career disappointment?
You know there's always going to be disappointments. Progress on important goals and objectives often slow to a crawl and take a backseat to day-to-day business demands; a great hire turns out to be a washout; a new referral partnership fails to produce… all kinds of stuff. Overall, I've managed to keep the lows to a minimum and ride the highs to a very successful couple of decades in business.
Any pet peeves or annoyances in your industry?
Yeah, I think everyone in our industry, and everyone involved in lending in general, is annoyed when someone attempts to reduce the lending business to "rate". This is because rate is often driven by risk. For example, if I asked you to loan me a sizeable sum of money, would your risk be greater if I pledged (a) my house as collateral, (b) my car as collateral, or (c) nothing as collateral? Obviously, your risk is lower with (a) (you have my house as a guarantee). So you'll likely give me a lower rate because of that. You'll also give me a lower rate if I have a history of credit worthiness (and the opposite if my credit history is spotty).
But despite the logic behind rate being driven by varying degrees of risk, many people wonder why credit card rates are higher than car loans and car loans are higher than home loans. In our business, we're often secured only by the equipment we finance, yet we're compared to a bank loan secured with a blanket lien on everything you own. In reality, rates are basically all the same – and adjusted appropriately for risk. An educated borrower evaluates lease and loan structures based on factors that are not equivalent from lender to lender. An educated borrower realizes "if I go with Crest, I don't tie up everything I own", and makes a decision accordingly.
What is the best piece of business advice you ever received?
Follow through. Always do what you say you're going to do.
Do you have a mentor or someone you looked up to?
My dad. His video production company helped many of the nation's largest organizations handle management issues. He was recognized with numerous national and international awards including seven Telly Awards, Best of Show at the Aurora Awards, and a CINE Golden Eagle. He was easily the most effective communicator, educator, and motivator that I've ever had the opportunity to be around.
Now it's your turn - how about some business advice for someone starting out?
I'll pass my own "best advice received" forward - Follow through. Always do what you say you're going to do. That's good advice for anyone at any stage of their career. Also, for young, aspiring entrepreneurs, I advise saving some living expense before launching a new venture – at least a year, but even more is better. Many great business concepts die a quick death because people mistakenly think they'll make money right away. In reality, you'll work twice as hard and earn half the income you expect – and invariably you'll need to reinvest all the income to fuel growth. In the beginning, it's about labor of love.
Tell us something we don't know about you.
I learned to scuba dive in the Gulf of Thailand at the age of eight.
Favorite band. And movie.
For one artist, I'd say Jimmy Buffet. But my iPod ranges from Jazz to Heavy Metal, and I grew up on Classic Rock, so that's my go-to on long drives. As far as movies, Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. My dad joined the Navy during WWII at age 15 and drove a landing boat in the Pacific – the opening scene depicting the Omaha Beach assault serves as a graphic reminder of the price of freedom.
What's on your desk right now?
The most interesting item is a feasibility study evaluating the potential of moving more of our computing infrastructure to the cloud. We moved our email and collaboration software offsite a couple years ago and it has worked well. You'd think we're running a data center with all the servers and hardware we maintain, and the idea of reducing internal tech demands is appealing. That said, in our business we have to take into account legal, economic, scheduling, and other non-technological factors, so it's something that requires thought.
Last question… "If I wasn't doing this, I would be…"
A play-by-play sportscaster. My wife thinks I missed my calling – she's always pointing out when the commentator on TV repeats what I said five seconds earlier. And it would be a great gig wouldn't it? Most of us enjoy talking about sports all day anyway; why not make it a career?!
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