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Character First: Interview with Jennifer Palmer
June 14, 2019
By Michele Ocejo
What is Gerber’s philosophy about lending to companies who “give back”?
In our industry the three Cs (credit, collateral and character) have always been a guide for determining whether or not to move forward with a deal. For many lenders, credit or collateral comes first. However, for Gerber Finance Inc., character has always been the most important.
Gerber has many times walked away from deals with good collateral and that are considered a good credit, deals that other lenders are eager to do, simply because we did not connect with the people or were uncertain of their character.
For Gerber, it’s all about the people behind the company. We always say it doesn’t matter how good the collateral or how strong the balance sheet is, if we don’t like the people or we don’t feel comfortable with them, we will walk from the deal.
That can be hard internally, as it’s extremely subjective and people have different gut feelings, but Gerber has always lived by “never regret a deal we didn’t do.” We only believe in looking forward.
How do you decide if someone fits your criteria for being a “good citizen”?
Our clients have aligned themselves with important causes such as providing communities throughout the world with access to clean/safe drinking water, providing educational opportunities to orphans and war victims, raising global awareness of skin care awareness and treatment around the world and protecting our environment.
One of the key elements for us when determining character is looking at a company’s commitment to giving back. It is imperative to us that we align ourselves with clients who are passionate about giving back to their community and/or the environment. When looking at our portfolio we see the majority of our clients do give back — this is no accident. When looking for new clients, we are actively searching for clients who care about their community, care about the environment, care about improving people’s health. We are all about relationships. We get to know our clients very well and spend a lot of time with our clients, so we are looking to work with individuals whose core principals align with ours, individuals we can relate to and respect. We also believe aligning ourselves with clients like this improves their credit profile because, if they care about giving back and making the world better, they will likely care about us if there is a problem.
What kind of effect do you think this has on the bottom line?
Many of our clients either contribute a percentage of their top or a percentage of their bottom line to causes that are important to them while others have set up separate foundations that are laser-focused on driving their cause forward. In either case this commitment takes resources and profits away from their bottom line. Fortunately, our clients balance sheets are strong enough to support these choices. Also, I would bet that their decision to connect their business to philanthropy is what makes them special and unique. I believe their passion is partly responsible for them being able to obtain and retain their top talent as well as create an inspiring culture, which continues to drive them forward. This all has a positive effect on the bottom line.
How does Gerber itself give back to the community?
Giving back to the community and supporting charitable efforts have always been important to Gerber and, in 2017, CEO Gerald Joseph and I solidified Gerber’s commitment to the community by starting The Gerber Finance Foundation and Gerber Gives Back. Our aim is to help move members of our communities forward. Gerber Finance Foundation leverages expertise and access to provide hunger relief for children; and every quarter, Gerber Gives Back enables employees to take time off to volunteer and give back to the community.
Last summer, Gerber Finance Foundation partnered with HOPE Community Services of New Rochelle to form the HOPE-Full Kids program, providing breakfast and lunch for children in need during school holidays. For children who rely on school for meals, school breaks may be a source of worry and hunger, as food may not be accessible. Our goal is to ease the worry for children and their parents, and to ensure that the children have access to food when school meals are unavailable. HOPE-Full Kids launched in September of 2018. For the 2018-2019 school year, we expect to distribute more than 5000 bags of food, reaching 200 children each school break day.
Gerber’s volunteer program, Gerber Gives Back, began in the fall of 2017. To date, Gerber employees have volunteered over 315 hours of time in different agencies, and packed and distributed over 6000 bags of food for the HOPE-Full Kids program and HOPE Community Services food pantry.
The Gerber Finance Foundation and Gerber Gives Back ensure that giving back to the community remains a priority for Gerber Finance. TSL