By Katherine Bell
As published in The Secured Lender


Featuring our very own Heidi Ames, Betty Hernandez and Rochelle Hilson!

Welcome to the second Women in Commercial Finance issue of The Secured Lender. In the previous pages you read in-depth interviews with accomplished women who have faced the glass ceiling and broken through to achieve success in their respective male-dominated industries: Sallie Krawcheck on Wall Street and Gail Bernstein in asset-based lending. You also read an eye-opening article digging deep into the gender wage gap.

In my roles as a partner at Paul Hastings LLP and as the chairperson of CFA’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee, I often contemplate the responsibility of leadership — especially as it translates into inspiring the next generation of leaders, both male and female. I think that this quote from Sheryl Sandberg epitomizes one of the primary goals that we should strive for in our roles as leaders: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

The leaders across our industry, whether executives within lending institutions or finance companies, partners in law firms, executives within turnaround firms, or volunteers leading the CFA as officers or members of various Committees or Chapters, each have a responsibility to this industry and the next generation of leaders within it. Beyond the responsibility to impart as much knowledge as possible about this industry to the leaders to come, today ‘s leaders are also charged with identifying talent and inspiring and engaging their teams to drive them to develop their individual strengths in order to grow into the leaders of tomorrow. Equally importantly, industry leaders are challenged to lead their teams to embrace innovation and change within the industry in order to remain competitive. It’s no secret that the financial services arena lags behind other more progressive industries when it comes to diversity. It is my hope that the commercial finance sector will lead the way within the larger financial services industry on the diversity front.

This issue of The Secured Lender, as well as the CFA’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee, endeavors to do just that. The mission of the CFA’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee is to promote the advancement of women in leadership in the commercial finance industry through networking, education and advocacy. We are committed to raising the profiles of the accomplished women across the commercial finance industry to demonstrate to the next generation of leaders the success that has already been achieved and the road that has already been paved. We are also highlighting the significant, no, crucial, effect that diversity has on success within any organization. Sallie Krawcheck, who will be the keynote speaker of CFA’s first Women in Commercial Finance Conference on September 28 in New York City, often discusses how diversity isn’t just the “right” thing to do, it makes good business sense: “Study after study after study has shown that companies with diverse management teams outperform those with less diverse teams. And that diverse teams outperform even more “capable” teams. And they don’t outperform non-diverse teams by a little, but with ROE differentials of 30%+, with lower earnings volatility.” Truly, according to the research, diverse teams provide a tangible competitive advantage.

On the following pages, you will meet over 50 women from the commercial finance industry who exemplify success and we are delighted to recognize their talent and achievements. These women represent leaders within CFA’s member organizations and CFA’s Education Foundation contributors. Each of these women understands the value of being committed to this industry and is leaving her mark with lasting impact.

Many thanks to the CFA and The Secured Lender for providing this platform and opportunity to acknowledge these leaders for their contributions.

Katherine Bell
Partner, Paul Hastings LLP
Chairperson, CFA Women in Commercial Finance

HEIDI AMES SVP/Account Executive North Mill Capital

Heidi Ames, senior vice president and account executive, has been with North Mill Capital LLC for six years. Prior to that she worked at Santander Bank as a field examiner and Business Alliance Capital Corp. as a collateral analyst. She has risen through the ranks of asset-based lending through hard work and persistence.

She began her career in lending as a collateral analyst, posting daily borrowing base certificates, reconciling collateral and calculating ineligibles. She was promoted to field examiner and was not bashful to request needed information and dig deeply. During her years as a collateral analyst and field examiner she managed to find time to pursue a college undergraduate degree as well as a graduate degree. Over the last six years she has transformed from field examiner, to one of our most senior account executives, handling workouts as well as a full portfolio load of accounts. Whether liquidating accounts, underwriting new business or handling accounts, Heidi is tenacious and relies on her gut instincts as well as her well-disciplined collateral focus approach.

Heidi lives in Flemington, NJ, with her husband, Dave, and daughter, Devon. She has been active with the NJ CFA Board and currently serves as its vice president and is an active member of East Amwell Township’s School Parent Teacher Organization. She received her Master of Science in management/organizational change as well as her Bachelor of Science in management from the College of Saint Elizabeth.

What advice would you offer to women just starting out in the industry?

Learn as much as you can and do not get discouraged. It is very important that you surround yourself with others in the industry who want to help you expand your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to keep asking a question if you do not understand. I recommend starting out in the operations and field exam areas, as it will give you an opportunity to understand the industry from the ground up. I took a job as an administrative assistant to a portfolio manager and from there moved through operations, field exam and credit. You will find a lot of the current leaders in our industry started out at the bottom and worked their way up. For me it was beneficial to work in the collateral area first, as it allowed me to understand reporting requirements for us as a lender and the client as a borrower. This was further enhanced when I became a field examiner even though my major was not in accounting.

What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?

That you will never know it all. In my 17 years, I find myself continuing to learn in this industry. A lot of my experience comes from day-to-day, hand-son experience. It is also important to learn about our customer’s business by going out and meeting with them face-to-face. All the underwriting documents in the world can’t give you the flavor of the business without taking a tour of the facility and meeting with your customer in person. Not every borrower is alike even if they are in the same industry and, furthermore, each industry has its in own nuances.

What kind of role has mentoring and/or sponsorship played in your career?

I have been very fortunate to work with a group of seasoned ABL lenders that have been willing to share their experience and knowledge with me and present me with opportunities that help me to learn and grow in my career. This year I was asked to be a mentor as part of the CFA mentoring program which allows me to share my experience in lending and pay it forward.

What do you think the industry could do to attract and retain the best and the brightest today?

The industry should continue to focus on programs that allow for exposure and training in all of the ABL/factoring areas. I truly believe the reason I could excel in my career was that I was able to work in collateral management, field exam, underwriting, account management and workout. This foundation to me was the key to my success. I think the industry should offer internships which will allow us to enhance the development of our future leaders before graduating from college. This was a pattern that banks had offered through a credit training program that has become less available to those entering our industry.

BETTY HERNANDEZ Chief Credit Officer North Mill Capital

Betty has over 25 years of banking experience. She began her career at First Fidelity Bank, NA (now Wells Fargo Bank) in a Credit Training Program. After two years in the Credit Department she was placed in the asset based lending area of the Bank where she began her lending career.

She has worked as a portfolio manager, underwriter in asset-based lending as well as a team leader in a Workout Department at various banks.

She is currently chief credit officer at North Mill Capital. She is a member of North Mill’s Management Credit Committee and is responsible for monitoring the credit quality and performance of the company’s asset-based lending and invoice-based financing (factoring) portfolio. Betty possesses a Bachelors of Arts degree in economics from Rutgers University. She also has a Master in business administration from the Rutgers School of Business specializing in finance. She is a past President of the NJ Chapter of the Commercial Finance Association and an active member of the Chapter. She is also an active member of CFA’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee, the Education Committee and is serving as Vice Chair of the Commercial Finance Chapters Committee.

What advice would you offer to women just starting out in the industry?

My advice for women starting out in the industry is to take on as much as possible. Offer to help out on different projects, whenever available. Read and study your firm’s policies and procedures manuals. Offer to stay late; do whatever is necessary to meet deadlines, even if that means copying, collating or e-mailing (used to be faxing). Try to listen as closely as possible to the manner in which more seasoned colleagues handle different situations. This will become useful in the future.

What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?

I wish I knew how difficult it was to handle a full time career and a family when I started. It is not for the faint of heart. Juggling work schedules and a family life is challenging but I’m here to tell you that it can be done as millions of women before us have done it successfully. We are all human and make mistakes. In the scheme of things, if you miss one of your children’s events it is not the end of the world even if they make you feel that way. In the long run it is your consistent behavior and attention to what is important that matters. That goes for your career as well.

What kind of role has mentoring and/or sponsorship played in your career?

Mentoring and/or sponsoring is extremely important. I have said this before. I was very fortunate to have had Ted Kompa and Jeff Goldrich as my mentors. They were not only mentors to me but to many of us. They were patient and provided me with challenging situations to figure out, all the while being there behind the scenes. It is because of their involvement in the CFA that I devote my time to the CFA. Ted pushed me to attend the pilot CFA Leadership Program. It was very beneficial. Jeff encouraged me to become involved in my local CFA Chapter. I served on the New Jersey CFA Chapter board and eventually became President of the Chapter. I am now the Co-Chair of the CFA Chapter Committee. Through all of these interactions it enabled me to meet other future industry leaders.

What do you think the industry could do to attract and retain the best and the brightest today?

I think we have come a long way to attract women in particular. Flexible schedules are not always possible in lending as there are deadlines to meet but, whenever possible, that is always helpful to fulfill a work-life balance. I think encouraging young and promising employees to learn the fundamentals of what we do, whether it be through internal training or through CFA Educational training sessions, we should encourage more young professionals to become involved. I would like to see even more women on the credit and operations side of the business, not just in new business development roles. I currently am an EVP, chief credit officer, and shareholder of a small independent entrepreneurial finance company. I sit on the Management Credit Committee and attend Board of Director meetings where I am still the only female (and a minority). I have seen the landscape change in my 27 years of lending, but I’d like to see that statistic change even more and balance out during the next few years.

Rochelle Hilson Senior Vice President – COO of IBF Division North Mill Capital

Rochelle has over 22 years of experience in the finance industry. She began her career at Principal Resources, LLC, now North Mill Capital LLC, in an entry level accounting position. In her time with the company, she has managed the accounting function, worked with lenders, managed a portfolio of factoring clients and currently manages the factoring portfolio and overseas North Mill Capital’s Minnesota office.

She is currently a senior vice president and COO of the IBF Division at North Mill Capital. She is responsible for monitoring the credit quality and performance of the invoice-based financing (factoring) portfolio. She works hand-in-hand with the legal, underwriting and business development teams to ensure that the portfolio is served and risk is properly managed.

Rochelle possesses a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. She has taken MBA classes and completed the Minnesota Executive Program at the Carlson School of Management. She has also attended webinars and workshops in leadership and other lending-related areas. She has participated on the board of directors of a local non-profit and remains on the non-profit’s finance committee. Rochelle is a member of the TMA, RMA and CFA.

What advice would you offer to women just starting out in the industry?

I would advise women starting out in the industry to be a good listener and observer and not to be afraid to ask questions, take chances or try something new. If a situation is making you feel outside your comfort zone, take a breath, lean in and go for it. I have found that some of the things I was most afraid to try ended up being the most rewarding. I know that the first networking events I attended seemed a bit overwhelming, but it might help to set a goal of meeting 2-3 new people at an event, know that others may not be comfortable too and practice making conversation. Having a non-work related hobby or interest or reading a business-related or skill-related book and inviting a colleague or friend to join you with the hobby or reading the book can help with building relationships too. I have read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership with my mentor and with my direct reports, which helped with my own growth and development while helping to build relationships with my peers. I would recommend learning to play golf since many business-related organizations have networking events at the golf course. I would also say that it is good to be aware of your core values and be confident in speaking up or making decisions to stay in alignment with your core values.

What do you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?

I’m a perfectionist, and in the beginning of my career, I wish I would have been more confident in my abilities and more willing to speak up. I think I was afraid to make mistakes and sometimes struggled with receiving feedback; so, having a thick skin, not taking things too personally, and knowing that it is OK to make mistakes can be critical to surviving. I learned very quickly that being able to effectively manage my time was important. Work on developing, practicing, and maintaining time management skills.

What kind of role has mentoring and/or sponsorship played in your career?

Having a mentor helped me to gain perspective and confidence. I was fortunate to have a mentor that believed in me and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone. As a result, I developed more confidence and became eager to take on new challenges. I have also served the role of mentor with colleagues and that has helped me to build stronger relationships with them as well as improving how we work together as a team.

What do you think the industry could do to attract and retain the best and the brightest today?

I think the industry could work on educating and making people more aware of what opportunities exist in the commercial finance industry, especially at the high school and college levels. Having networking events that are not sport-related or at the golf course and that involve activities of interest to women might help attract women to the commercial financing industry. Creating and offering more leadership opportunities for women in the workforce and creating an environment that is more accepting and encourages women to work on maintaining a balance between work and family should help with retaining superstars. Offering continued training and mentorship throughout one’s career and advocating for various women in business organizations or affiliates that are supportive and provide resources for women in commercial finance might help retain star candidates.


Photos Left to Right: Heidi Ames, Betty Hernandez, Rochelle Hilson