From his origins as a field examiner, underwriter, business development officer and sales leader to his current position as director/head of ABL at Santander, Albert Spada has seen the industry grow, drawing an ongoing interest in its intricacies and potential for expansion. “The thing that really attracted me to the industry back when I first started was the customer interactions and the various types of business I got to learn about. The good news is that even today, not a single day in finance is the same. It really keeps things interesting,” he says.
For someone who has been in the industry as long as Spada — nearly three decades — it’s important to maintain a sense of curiosity about the business; but according to the man who now heads one of Santander’s key areas of growth, the biggest driver for each opportunity he’s taken has been the people. “The thing that landed me at specific jobs over the years was the great people,” he says. From colleagues to team leaders, bosses to friends, Spada says he’s taken something from each of the great people he’s worked with and made it his own. “I’ve had several mentors who have really helped guide my career, and I often try to emulate them in my own management style. I have worked with some great companies who had excellent people and exceptional leaders — I try to take the best of what I’ve seen and apply it to my own work,” he says.
And in his current position, the principles learned from those people are what help him truly shine. Despite working for industry heavyweights such as RBS Citizens, CIT and GE Capital in the past, Spada says he’s found no better working environment than Santander. “I’ve been really fortunate to be employed by terrific organizations that are large and have vast resources and talented people,” Spada says. “But in the short time I’ve been with Santander, I’ve found the people here and their capabilities to be among the best. We compete regularly with organizations I’ve worked with previously, and I can say that with my experience, I’m excited to be here with a strong global bank, trying to grow business. I’ve spent the recent past running sales organizations, but this position gives me the ability to run a business from sales all the way through portfolio management.”
Let the Sales Shine Through
Though he’s made it into the Major Leagues as a director today, Spada says that without that experience in sales, he would have never made it to where he is. “Working on the sales side helped me to better analyze markets and understand and underwrite risks. Those disciplines are more critical than ever in the industry as a whole, and at Santander as we work to build a business that will be successful over the long haul in many different cycles and segments,” he says. “I’ve worked under terrific leaders that do a great job planning, but the more important job is to react to the inevitable changes that our industry faces.”
For Spada, that job is one he’s prepared his entire career to undertake. “If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect, it’s the unexpected,” he says. “I’ve seen in my own career that just when you think you’ve figured out what the risks are or where growth will come from, things change.” But good leaders can adapt, Spada says, all the while making their teams comfortable with the changes ahead. “I don’t know exactly what we will face in 2015 and beyond, but it’s part of our management style at Santander to be ready for whatever changes come and make those changes as easy for our team as we possibly can.”
Taking on the ABL Market
And at Santander, those changes can come from a number of sources, a variety of clients or the industry itself. Backed by Santander Group, the growing U.S. arm consists of 700 branches and has a nine-state footprint. Its parent company was founded in 1857, and with an international presence in the UK, Latin America and Europe, is no stranger to suiting a range of clientele. “In the ABL business, our clients are firmly in the middle market, with a range between $25 million to upwards of $1 billion in revenue,” Spada says. “We provide a range of financing solutions to those customers, typically between $10 million and several hundred million.” Santander’s diverse portfolio consists of manufacturers, service companies, importers and wholesalers, and in the New England area, it provides financial services for fishing, processing and seafood import companies.
“Besides our office in Miami, there are no further plans to expand geographically or into different segments — our plan is just to do what we do and do it well,” Spada says, because with a balanced market strategy, Santander has positioned itself to take advantage of the busiest segments in its current scope, rather than chasing business that may not develop in the future. “We take a multi-channel approach by calling directly on companies and centers of influence, the firms that advise those companies, and the private equity sponsors that execute new acquisitions,” he says. “We work with colleagues around the bank to bring ABL products to our customers.”
Like many of its competitors, Spada says Santander provides revolving lines of credit and term loans that support growth, acquisitions, restructurings and recapitalization. But unlike some other big players in the ABL world, Santander is part of a large network backed by one and a half centuries of success. “Our biggest differentiator is being part of a global bank,” he says. “We have world class trade finance, cash management and cross-border capabilities. Our large market reach allows us to work with the rest of the bank to provide ABL solutions where the customer is, and because we have access to resources around the world, it gives us the ability to understand, with our feet on the ground, specific markets and the customers within. We are uniquely positioned to serve growing industries with operations around the globe,” he says.
Meeting the Economy Head On
But it’s the faces behind the brand that bring Santander from a large corporation to a reliable group you want to do business with. “I’ve found the leadership team to be very supportive, very engaged and committed to helping to grow the ABL business,” Spada says. “Within the ABL team, we have a group of very talented, very dedicated professionals who put the customer first.”
And with the team by his side, Spada says he is moving into 2015 with cautious optimism. “Our biggest challenge is that our business is in an extremely competitive marketplace. Over the last several years, the capital supply has outstripped demand, and that has put a lot of pressure on the terms and financing structures,” he says. “I’ve talked to many of our competitors and know what I’m up against, and I have aggressive growth plans in mind for this year — but I expect it to be challenging.”
Moving into the second quarter and beyond, Spada says he will continue to monitor the economy, which experts say is quickly accelerating despite some troubling numbers. At press time, U.S. jobless claims were at a nine-month high1 and wage growth rose by just three cents, a 2% increase that falls below the pre-recession levels2, according to the U.S. Labor Department. “The ABL market tends to mirror the overall economy, so if businesses are growing and investing, our market grows as well,” Spada says. “But with GDP growth in the low single digits, I expect industry-wide ABL volume growth to sit at a similar rate.”
But despite the uncertain numbers and a potentially volatile year ahead in the U.S. economy, Spada remains optimistic. “On a positive note, I see signs that companies are comfortable making investments in capacity and complimentary business lines, and acquisition activity is hitting levels not seen since the start of the recession. As 2015 roars on, it could prove to be a busy year,” he says. “In my career, I’ve never been more excited about an opportunity in the industry as I am about my new position at Santander,” he says. “The ABL product is a valuable tool for companies, and there is a real place for Santander to be a leading provider.”
Kelly Wolfgang is associate editor of ABF Journal.
1. U.S. Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims. Available at: http://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf (Last accesssed March 9, 2015).
2. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Cost Index. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/eci.nr0.htm (Last accessed March 9, 2015).