Ahead of the first meeting of second Leaseurope Future Group, Grant Collinson talks to some of last year’s group about the importance of building relationships and asks Leaseurope what’s in store for 2014
"It’s not what you know but who you know" is such an overused English phrase when it comes to getting anywhere in business it has moved beyond the realm of cliché into the nether regions of near meaninglessness. It is traipsed out with such frequency whenever a personal connection helps in business it’s only necessary to utter the first clause before heads nod in complete agreement.
Of course, a ubiquitous adage always starts from truth and who you know will always be important – it’s certainly the case in the close-knit European leasing industry.
For the 16 young leasing professionals who took part in the inaugural Leaseurope Future Group, the benefits of building a network have emerged as one of the most important results of the programme, which is soon to welcome its second cohort of eager young lessors.
Hywel Prewett, business development manager for wholesale with Aldermore Asset Finance and participant in the first Future Group, says meeting peers from across Europe has been "invaluable."
"Not only have I got benefit from adding to my own personal network of contacts, but feel I’ve met some truly interesting, intelligent people, who have helped me develop. I hope we remain friends for a number of years, and who knows, we may even do a deal together one day," he says.
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The value and benefit of building networks across Europe with colleagues at a similar stage of career development is a common theme in the feedback to Leasing Life and Jacqueline Mills, Leaseurope’s director of asset finance and research and coordinator of the Future Group programme, says she got a similar impression when debriefing the group.
"The networking worked well," she says, "they all want to keep in contact and build their European network."
Mills says Leaseurope plans to maintain a LinkedIn group for the 2013 intake, as well as organising an opportunity for some or all of the first 16 to join part of the 2014 programme, "even if it is just in an informal setting so there can be an inter-year exchange."
As well as gelling socially and professionally, Mills believes the group learnt a lot from each other’s experiences and developed greater understanding of the leasing industry.
"The programme opened up their eyes to the fact there are so many different kinds of leasing business and functions within leasing businesses," she says. "They all learnt a lot from their peers."
Kari Mäkelä, Future Group participant and legal counsel for IT equipment lessor 3 Step IT, says prior to the programme he had not realised the variety of business models and companies involved in leasing, but found people working in leasing are "like-minded and share the same joys and concerns" regardless of the part of the industry they occupy.
Gernot Prettenthaler of Raiffeisen Leasing says discovering the common thread of struggles, issues and market trends shared across of the whole leasing industry was the most important lesson he learnt as part of the Future Group.
For Marco Ripamonti, business partnerships director at BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions Italy, working with peers from as many as eight different countries with a variety of skills and disciplines helped him "discover a wider leasing industry ecosystem".
"Now I’m more confident in evaluating seriously an opportunity in another leasing industry segment," he says.
The positive response to the programme extends beyond the participants, and Leaseurope’s Mills says the trade body is very happy with the outcome of the first Future Group, in particular feedback from the industry on the session led by the group at Leaseurope’s convention in Rome.
"The Future Group has been extremely well-received by the industry and by the CEOs who nominated their young talents," Mills says. "When we asked for feedback on the different sessions at the annual convention a lot people said the Future Group session was one of the best. I think it definitely struck a chord and we are encouraged a lot by that."
The 16 participants in the 2013 Future Group were nominated by chief executives at Leaseurope’s CEO Business Council in March last year and tasked with developing innovative business ideas which could be applied to the leasing industry. Three of the ideas were chosen for development and the concepts presented to the industry at the Rome convention.
One of the chosen ideas was proposed by Vincent Romanelli of Investec and he says feedback from within his company on the Future Group scheme, as well as his concept, has been positive. So much so Investec has "initiated a new project" following Romanelli’s participation, although he could not go into more detail.
Paul-Antoine Stirn, international partnerships manager at ALD International, whose "Ecoreward" incentive programme for fleet lessees was one of the three ideas presented in Rome, says management and colleagues at his firm responded "very positively" to his experience with the Future Group and Société Générale-owned ALD has begun implementing the project.
"A few weeks after the presentation in Rome, the implementation of the Ecoreward was launched in one of ALD’s major subsidiaries in Europe and Ecoreward was also selected to participate to the Société Générale Group innovations trophies," he says.
Juho Väinölä, chief business controller at Nordea Finance, had a similar response to his involvement in the Future Group and says his ideas are better heard within the company and he is more frequently a "sparring partner" for developing projects within Nordea.
Väinölä says the company is also looking at incorporating his experience working with peers from different countries and markets into his role at the company and Nordea is currently developing a concept related to one of the innovations originally posited by the Future Group.
Leaseurope’s Mills says all of Future Group’s ideas were potentially good innovations and the three chosen to be developed were selected on how feasible they would be to implement. Leaseurope is publishing a booklet summarising all 16 of the group members’ concepts.
"The objective is to make sure the wider collection of intelligence is made available to the industry," Mills says. "One of our roles is to share information and encourage people to think about innovation. This is another way we can do that and it is also a chance for the other members of the group who didn’t present at the convention to be able to defend their concept."
Mills says the way the 2014 group will present their ideas at Leaseurope’s annual convention, this year in Barcelona, will be different, although the final format is still to be designed.
The project this year’s young professionals will undertake will also differ from 2013, with participants tackling more specific problems faced by the leasing industry.
"The brief the 2013 group got was purposely left very wide," says Mills. "The reason we kept the brief broad was because we didn’t want to give them too many constraints; we wanted them to be able to think, ‘I’m not within my company, I’m not within the normal environment – what would I change?’
"At the same time, that is actually extremely difficult."
This year’s group, who are again nominated by company chiefs, with those who nominated last year given the first chance to do so again, will be asked to identify an external factor which impacts leasing and then design an industry response to it.
"Things like major technological changes," says Mills, "the development of the cloud, regulatory changes, societal and demographic changes, the aging population. All of those big, mega-trends which come from outside of the industry."
Each participant will then pick one of those external factors and come up with a way for the leasing industry to address it – either by making the most of it, if it is a positive trend, or, if it is a challenge, turning a potential difficulty into an opportunity.
Mills says other changes to the programme include external speakers, most likely industry CEOs, "to provide some motivation and inspiration" and additional time for the programme to run. Many of the 2013 cohort tell Leasing Life more time, both in the length of programme meetings and the time from the beginning of the programme to the convention, would have helped them to develop ideas better, and Leaseurope is planning to address both concerns in 2014 by starting earlier and adding an addition meeting to the programme calendar.
However the programme pans out for this year’s group, the class of 2013 seems to have been a success on all fronts. The participants Leasing Life spoke to all regard the Future Group has having helped them to develop in their respective companies and as ambitious young leasing professionals with a wide network of European peers.
Mills sees this reaction as enormously positive and a boon for the long-term aims of the programme.
"There is a definite sense of enthusiasm; people are keen to carry on working in leasing. From our point of view, when it comes to trying to encourage a younger generation in the industry, that is positive. A small step in terms of changing the greying image of the industry," she says.
The Future Group members also regard the programme has having the potential to benefit the European leasing industry in the long term.
Aldermore’s Prewett says: "The current leasing market is dominated by people who will be retirees in 5-10 years’ time. Most of the members of senior management grew up in leasing, and it’s commonplace to hear stories of people they formed relationships with 20 years ago.
"It’s imperative we look to the future and try and build the next generation of senior management. In my opinion, this can be done through networking events and projects such as the Future Group, where young lessors are encouraged to push the boundaries and build long-term relationships which can only be of benefit to the future of the industry."
His point is echoed by Nordea’s Väinölä who says the next generation of lessors will need to take a leading role in the industry in future and Leaseurope’s programme can be part of this development.
"It’s crucial we get the young talents embedded into the business and give them responsibility early enough," he says.
Raiffeisen’s Prettenthaler believes the Future Group can "enrich the scope of decision-making in the leasing industry" by embracing the point of view of the younger generation and Investec’s Romanelli says the programme demonstrates a commitment from the leasing industry to invest in young people and a "willingness to embrace innovation".
As a channel for the development of innovative ideas, Ripamonti at BNP Paribas says he’s sure the Future Group programme will have a "significant impact" on the leasing industry and can function as the starting point for new ideas.
Mills agrees and sees the Future Group programme as a platform from which young professionals can think freely away from the constraints of the day-to-day working environment. "It’s extremely difficult for people to be innovative when their day jobs are in these very controlled and regulated environments," she says.
"[The need for innovation] is one of the biggest challenges the industry has, so if we can use the Future Group as a forum for free thinking and afterwards participants, and others, can then go back and tackle the practical aspects, then it can be very positive for the industry."