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Bill Stephenson: Sophisticated Simplicity

Bill Stephenson: Sophisticated Simplicity

When it comes to innovating in financial solutions, DLL has a very clear idea of what´s next.

The legendary Steve Jobs once commented: “Simple can be harder than complex.” His words have proven to be prophetic, particularly when looking at the heavily regulated banking and financial services industry, which is still mired in decades old legacy computer systems and paper-heavy loan documentation. Bill Stephenson, CEO and Chairman of the Board for DLL, a leading global vendor finance company, recognizes this challenge and is focused on bringing simplicity to the world of equipment leasing and finance.

Technology, according to Stephenson, is the key to unlocking the secret of simplicity. “With the right technology and solutions, a financial transaction is something that can be done in minutes and with minimal burden placed on the salesperson or the customer,” Stephenson says. “Our goal is to provide our vendor partners and their customers with a completely paperless and digital solution that is easy to understand and use. at is the direction we are taking DLL and where we are investing as a company.”

The primary business of DLL is working closely with market leading equipment manufacturers and their distribution partners, such as independent dealers, providing financial products and solutions that help these ‘vendors’ sell more of their products to their end customers. With a portfolio in excess of US$30 billion and employing more than 4,000 people around the world, the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rabobank Group, the Dutch banking giant. “Right now, we’re the only vendor finance leasing company with a consistent delivery model in more than 30 countries and that gives us a unique advantage. Our global footprint enables us to help international vendors in their key mature markets as well as new, emerging countries.”

Yet this unique size also presents a special set of challenges. “Staying agile and flexible is very important. Being able to react quickly and anticipate market trends has always been in our DNA and the challenge is to continue that as we grow.” Rabobank began life more than 120 years ago as a specialized agricutural lender and its subsidiary continues this commitment to the food and farming sector. But DLL is also heavily involved in other industries, including construction, transportation, industrial, office technology, healthcare and clean technologies such as energy efficient LED lighting, as well as solar and wind projects.

Stephenson’s diversity of experience reflects the company’s broad range of projects. Educated at Florida State University and Harvard Business School, Stephenson, an American, became the first non-Dutch national appointed as CEO of the company in 2014. After joining DLL more than 30 years ago, he has held several different leadership positions within the organization and brings a high degree of specialized knowledge to the role. Stephenson is a firm believer in that specialization is vital to business, allowing his company to understand individual customer’s situations and build successful relationships on the basis of that understanding.

“DLL is more than just our financial partner. They are a solutions provider. As our business evolves, DLL continues to look for ways to help us help our customers, and that is what is very special about them. Bill Stephenson instills this ‘customer first’ relationship from the top down and it is one of the primary reasons they are so successful”

— WHIT PERRYMAN, CEO AT VERMEER TEXAS-LOUISIANA

We put the customer at the center of everything we do. We hire people from within the industry and teach them finance. They have sold the equipment and can ‘talk shop’, which gives them immediate credibility. If you’re a forklift manufacturer and your financing representative used to work in the forklift industry, then you know they have insight into the challenges, obstacles and problems that you face each and every day.”

Stephenson is also passionate about reducing the distance between company leadership and clients. Three years ago DLL underwent a massive structural overhaul with the aim of “delayering” the organization. “There were up to 12 layers between the customer and the CEO and we reorganized to make that a maximum of six layers.”

Stephenson is keen to foster “a culture of empowerment,” where every member of the organization is aware of their importance. “Everybody knows where they contribute and where they fit in. We do role and responsibility reviews, so from the mailroom to the CEO we know exactly what our role is in providing value to clients.”

This customer-centered approach is also key to Stephenson’s belief in simplification. As systems grow ever more complex, he is adamant that DLL can make the point-of-sale transaction a truly minimalist experience. “On larger financial transactions, the equipment sales representative closes the deal at the customer’s office, commutes back to their own office and submits all of the documentation to a finance manager. They sometimes wait more than one or two business days for a credit approval and other updates, before driving back out to the customer in order to get lease documents signed. It is far from efficient, for both the sales representative and customer. We want the entire process to be measured in seconds or minutes, not days.”

Technology is central to making this goal a reality and DLL is determined to stay ahead of the game when it comes to innovation. “We’ve developed and patented a mobile app where an equipment sales representative can finalize the configuration of the equipment and accessories with a customer online and collect the preliminary data for a credit check. In many cases, our online credit scoring is instantaneous and the lease or loan documentation can be generated electronically. The customer may even execute the documents electronically, which means that some transactions can be completed in a matter of minutes.”

In an effort to increase both efficiency and speed in bringing solutions to the market, DLL continues to evaluate technology delivered by a variety of external suppliers in addition to building certain proprietary applications and services in-house.

“Our core business is not IT and application development. We are realizing more and more that we don’t need to build everything. Why should DLL build electronic documentation and signature capabilities, for example, when there are companies out there that specialize in providing these services and work to continually upgrade and maintain them?” In fact, Stephenson believes that competitors in the banking and financial services sector who stick to this strategy will be at “a distinct competitive disadvantage,” and “unable to respond to where DLL plans on driving the industry.”

Technology is only one half of the equation, according to Stephenson. There also needs to be a focus on products and solutions that meet the evolving needs of customers. “Fundamental to our plan is a focus on product innovation as well, so that we provide our vendor partners with the products they need to win. For example, in many markets, as we continue to see a shift away from equipment ownership toward usage–based models, so DLL has in- troduced more flexible solution financing where customers can pay us by the hour for forklifts, pay on a ‘per scan’ basis for an MRI machine or ‘per copy’ basis for a copier.”

The role of people cannot also be underestimated. Even with the most efficient digital processes there will always be transactions with special requirements that require human intervention and troubleshooting. Stephenson shared that DLL is also piloting a ‘virtual office’ concept that will enable staff to ‘plug in’ to provide live online support or field inbound service and inquiry calls. “This concept is a win-win for our employees and our customers. An employee looking for a more flexible work schedule or seeking to eliminate a long daily commute might now have the opportunity to customize their hours and work from home.”

Bringing simplicity to the complex can be a long journey, but DLL is fully committed. “We will continue to focus on the business of our vendor partners, specializing in their markets. at has been the key to our success for over 40 years and will continue to be for decades to come.” Stephenson’s personal commitment is unwavering as well. “I like the second half of that Steve Jobs quote on simplicity even better… ‘once you get there, you can move mountains.’”