As one of the top dealmakers in the commercial finance industry, Barry Kastner knows how artful the process of developing business and closing deals can be. For ABL artists like Kastner, money serves as the proverbial paint brush, but the solutions he finds for clients are what end up on the metaphorical canvas.
“We say we’re in the money business, but we’re really in the people business and we’re in the problem-solving business,” Kastner says. “We’re dealing with people and we’re trying to solve their problems, and money is the tool that does it.”
Passion for Years
Kastner has been honing his craft for the better part of six decades and in that time, he has accrued the type of experience any company would want in a leader. Marco Financial is the firm that is fortunate enough to employ Kastner’s impressive skill set currently, as Kastner joined the startup technology-focused trade finance firm in its initial days in 2020.
Now serving as executive vice president and senior managing director at Marco, Kastner got his start in the industry when he went to work at Congress Factors, which would go on to become Congress Financial. He took a summer job with the company and that first summer turned into 33 years, including several as chief operating officer, during which time the company was bought by Wachovia (now Wells Fargo). Kastner eventually moved on to work for other notable firms in the specialty finance arena, including TD Bank, Siena Lending Group and Bibby Financial Services.
“There’s never a dull moment. Every day has its own excitement,” Kastner says while explaining why he has stayed in the industry all these years. “I love walking through plants and seeing how our prospects do their business. And I enjoy mentoring others and giving them some tips and strategies on how to be successful. I still have a passion for the business and nothing pleases me more than to see our hard work turn into a closed deal.”
Kastner says that the makeup of a company’s team and its credit culture are critical factors in determining just how successful a firm can be.
“The credit culture of the company is probably the single most important tool you have in developing business and winning business,” Kastner says. “I just want to stress the team building aspect of what I’ve done. You can’t be successful without the right team in the right company”
Deals Beget Deals
Kastner has worked on and closed a litany of deals during his career, from his very first one with a fuel distributor in New York to his more recent ones at Marco, including the first deal he closed for the company. That transaction, which closed in January of this year, was for $9 million and became the launching pad for Marco’s growth in 2021. Kastner’s extensive network was particularly critical to getting the deal into Marco’s pipeline, as it came from a private equity group with which Kastner has a long-time relationship.
“They basically rewarded me with that transaction because, although it could have been done by a bank or another lender, the relationship I had with this private equity caused them to send it to Marco,” Kastner says. “As a former boss at Congress used to say, deals beget deals.”
Getting a stream of deals to start flowing takes plenty of groundwork. Kastner says the most crucial practices of an effective dealmaker in the ABL industry are always being available, creative, committing to your borrowers and their needs and building and maintaining trust.
“My base of relationships is very steady and it’s been earned by trust and I believe in advocating for our prospects and clients,” Kastner says. “There has to be a good balance between credit and the selling aspect of developing business. If you build trust and you build a relationship, you win the business. It’s as simple as that.”
Kastner also believes in “giving a little extra” to borrowers to show them how much he values their business. He also says that when a borrower tells him they feel like they have his undivided attention, he knows he is doing his job well.
Dealmaking, like art, also requires a great deal of creativity, according to Kastner, even if you have to go out on a limb occasionally. For example, during his time with Congress, Kastner wanted to be a bit more aggressive on a deal with a larger retailer, so he proposed a stretch loan secured by intellectual property. Congress’ CEO at the time told Kastner that it was too risky, but after the deal closed, apologized, explaining that Kastner had done what was ultimately the right thing for both companies.
“ABL and factoring are an art, not a science, so you have to be creative,” Kastner says. “You have to win the prospect’s approval and then you have to win your company’s approval. If either one of those fails, there’s no deal. We don’t say no, we say how”.
Marco and the Future
Kastner is now winning deals for Marco, which he joined as the company’s third employee. Taking a leap into the future with a startup may have seemed like a risky play at the time, but Marco has grown quite a bit since Kastner first stepped aboard, and now has close to 40 employees, and continues to add talent in offices in Miami, New York and Uruguay. They expect to have a headcount of 100 by this time next year. Even before joining, Kastner was attracted by Marco’s founders’ culture on both the credit and people side.
“I wasn’t concerned because they gave me all the right signals. They convinced me to join them, and they were definitely looking to do something different,” Kastner says of Marco, specifically identifying the company’s focus on cross-border trade finance, its creativity and its technology focus as particularly attractive elements. “We’ve hired very, very smart, mostly young people and anchored those people with a couple of veterans.”
Kastner is one of those veterans and, he has brought in the majority of the firm’s business to date while helping mentor other members on the team on matters such as screening prospects and structuring deals. Kastner plans to continue helping to build Marco into the same type of powerhouse he worked for at Congress before perhaps eventually moving into an advisory role, although that’s still in the distant future.
“We have a long way to go to build Marco to where we want it to be,” Kastner says. “We want it to be a leader in the business. We want to grow the portfolio and I intend to stick around and help us do that.”
As he continues to create art in the finance world, Kastner is also contributing to the more traditional art space, as he is helping his wife grow her mixed media art business after she found initial success selling paintings at art shows in North Carolina.
“I’m not an expert in art whatsoever, but she does really, really, really nice work,” Kastner says.
Kastner may not consider himself an artist in the conventional sense, but as everyone in the ABL industry knows, he’s an artist when it comes to dealmaking.