JW Heflin is an Equipment Finance and Leasing Recruiter of 8 years, leading the Equipment Finance and Leasing practice at ThinkingAhead Executive Search. Like many other areas of banking and commercial finance, JW’s niche faced uncertainty in 2023, causing him to reflect on the true keys to success in his role and the roles he services.
JW likes to say that since starting his recruiting career, the most valuable skill he has learned is professional maturity, which he defines as the understanding that his work is not about his own timing, rather the timing of his clients and candidates. “It’s never really up to us when we fill the search or who we fill it with,” he says. “Our job is to provide a high level of service to fit the needs of our clients.”
The key to professional maturity, he realized, is understanding that he and his clients want the same thing: to fill a search in a timely manner with the best possible candidate. Leaning into his role as an industry expert is the best way to make this happen. “We share valuable information with our clients, offer up suggestions, and give them enough solid information so they can make good decisions.”
JW makes it his responsibility to keep his clients informed in all aspects of the search: what constraints are keeping top talent from moving, market conditions, adversities of a specific search, hiring activity of competitors, and the list goes on. After providing the best insight, he yields to his clients’ judgement. “It’s not our decision, and that’s where the professional maturity comes into play,” JW repeats. “I provide enough information so they can make the right decision for their organizations.”
When I asked JW to fill me in on the current state of the Equipment Finance and Leasing talent market, he lightheartedly cautioned, “Yeah, run. Run away. Scary. Don’t do it. It’s on fire.” He then elaborated that increasing and unstable interest rates are causing higher costs of funds, making the typical equipment deals more difficult to fund. On top of this, because of recent events, deposits have become more of a conversation topic and organizations are having to use more discretion on how they spend their capital.
These factors are culminating in a big contraction of the marketing place. Large institutions are making layoffs across the board, while some organizations are doing away with any sort of transactional business where they cannot cultivate a relationship. The focus of these banks, JW concludes, is on building holistic relationships with customers whom they can serve in multiple ways, rather than one or two specific kinds of large transactions per year. Unfortunately, this means layoffs for professionals in Equipment Finance and Leasing.
The news is not all grim, though. Though they are few and far between, some institutions have been able to take advantage of the turbulence and thrive in these conditions. JW added that the independent or non-bank market is also beginning to pick up. “With customers not able to finance through their bank, they must finance somewhere. So, independents are getting more looks at deals and transactions, meaning more opportunity and growth on the independent side here in the short term.”
All the unrest has shifted JW’s practice. He’s still working with some banks and some independents, but they are different banks and different independents—continuing to go where the demand is.
JW advises his Equipment Finance talent to “hunker down” and stay in their jobs to ride out this turbulent season. “There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about another bank or institution,” he conceded, “but if you jump ship right now, you’re going to be in the water with a lot of other people, and the lifeboat is only so big.”
To end on a hopeful note, JW commented that the Equipment Finance and Leasing Industry is making avenues for fresh talent to make their way into the field. The ELFA or Equipment Leasing and Finance Association has been impactful in setting up programs for college students to learn and understand the business and has even provided scholarships. There are also many institutions developing fantastic training programs, bringing in talent fresh out of college and teaching the business from the ground up. So, while most institutions are not chomping at the bit to hire right now, the infrastructure is in place for the Equipment Finance and Leasing industry to continue to thrive in the long term.
If you would like to have a conversation with JW, reach out here.