Mark Forti knew he wanted to be in asset-based lending before it became a multi-billion-dollar industry. Now head of originations at Callodine Commercial Finance, Forti is still passionate about the “hunt” of the deal.
When Mark Forti, head of originations at Callodine Commercial Finance, graduated from Bryant University, he knew he wanted to be a banker, but he had no idea how and where, or at least he didn’t at the time. It was after a meeting in the summer of 1987, arranged by his father, with the person running U.S. Trust’s asset-based lending group that Forti realized he wanted to get into asset-based lending. Soon after that meeting, Forti accepted a role at Shawmut Bank, located in Boston, as a field examiner, a role that solidified his love for the industry.
An Excellent Stride
When Forti started as a field examiner, asset-based lending wasn’t the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today in which most major banks provide some form of ABL. According to Forti, the closest thing to ABL at the time was factoring and equipment leasing. Many of the founders of ABL as we know it, such as Ward Mooney, Ed Siskin and Bob DeAngelis, would enable Forti to help construct the industry and figure out how to make the best of his career situation amid mergers, economic downturns and other unforeseen disruptions.
Ever since that first role at Shawmut, Forti has traversed more than 30 years in the growing ABL industry, leaving his mark at firms like First National Bank of Boston, which bought Gordon Brothers Finance Company and became BankBoston Retail Finance; GE Capital, where he was recruited with a few colleagues and where he got his first taste of working in an unregulated environment; and eventually back with Gordon Brothers Finance Company for several years prior to its sale to Callodine. With such a breadth of experience to draw upon and having been with his current team in some way or another for so long, Forti says he’s reached an excellent stride at Callodine,
“We’ve handpicked our professionals. The whole company’s only 12 people, so everybody has to get along, and everybody has to know what their job is, know how to get it done and get it done unsupervised. And that’s what we have today,” Forti says. “What’s the difference [between Callodine and Gordon Brothers Finance Company]? I would say we’re more focused, we’re more efficient on how we work and how we deploy capital and it’s more streamlined. Because we are evaluating between 400 to 500 transactions a year, and we’re only closing maybe 10 to 15 of those, we have a a big funnel and our credit-minded originators have to triage the opportunities. But, it’s a low-hit business, so you have to find the right credits. I think we have the right team now, and that’s why our firm is prospering.”
As head of originations, Forti sees himself as a player coach for Callodine. Domestically, Forti works with two other business development officers, Kathy Dimock and Caitlin Sanders, while Peter Jaffe handles the firm’s international calling. Between him and his team, Forti works the switchboards to ensure the company makes the right connections with the right people for every deal. Forti also spends much of his time on the road with company CEO Gene Martin, speaking with pension funds and insurance companies interested in becoming LPs or investing in Callodine’s newest fund.
Expanding the Foundation
What has changed about the ABL industry since Forti entered the industry in the late 1980s? Not much, Forti says, noting that dealmaking and relationship-building are arts as old as humankind’s dependence on currency to get things done.
“You have to be good to your word. Obviously, you need to be honest. But it’s maintaining relationships and your reputation that people can rely on you. That when you say you’re going to do something, you do it,” Forti says. “That, to me, is just common sense, but a lot of people don’t think of it that way.”
While ABL may hold true to its foundations, what hasn’t changed for Forti is his excitement for the front end of a transaction.
“The hunt, if you will, finding the opportunity, identifying it, getting involved and then putting it together. And then it’s all about figuring out how to win the business. Who are you competing with? What’s the right structure? What’s the right pricing? What’s the right execution? I still get excited about that, and it just doesn’t seem to get old for me. That’s what keeps me going,” Forti says.
Forti’s inspiration is what will keep him at Callodine until his eventual retirement, he says, looking back at his successes and the lessons learned throughout three incredible decades in an industry that has sprung up around him. When Forti calls it quits, however, is still in question, as he plans to build Callodine, raise new funds and get the business further capitalized. Forti also wants to pass his knowledge on to the company’s younger generation for when it is time for he and his colleagues who have helped build the ABL industry to pass their senior role batons.