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Interview with Mac Fowle, Global Head of Asset-Based Lending for J.P. Morgan Commercial Banking
By Michele Ocejo
Mac Fowle is the global head of Asset-Based Lending (ABL) for J.P. Morgan Commercial Banking. He is responsible for the end-to-end strategic leadership of the ABL group in supporting the financing needs for clients across Commercial Banking and the Corporate & Investment Bank (CIB).
From January 2019 to January 2021, Mac was the chief risk officer for ABL, where he was in charge of all aspects of ABL credit risk including field examinations, credit underwriting and ongoing portfolio management. Prior to this role, Mac was a managing director in High Yield and Leveraged Loan Capital Markets in the CIB, where he was responsible for the origination, structuring and distribution of ABL loans, institutional term loans and high yield bonds across a variety of industry sectors.
Mac joined J.P. Morgan in July 2007 and has been involved in leveraged finance and asset-based lending for over 20 years. He holds a B.A. in finance from Indiana University.
Please give us a little bit of background on your career trajectory and how you got into ABL.
I started in ABL right out of school, working for Bankers Trust, which is now a part of Deutsche Bank. I was an ABL analyst and got exposure right away to origination, loan syndication, portfolio management, a little bit of everything as it related to ABL. ABL has always been a very dynamic environment, whether in good times or in bad, and I learned early on that there’s always a very important role for ABL to play throughout the stages of a client’s life cycle. I was incredibly fortunate to have had two great mentors when I started my career, providing me opportunities at an early stage that allowed me to develop. It’s very important to me that I provide the same types of opportunities and mentorship for the next generation of talent on my team.
In 2007, I joined J.P. Morgan’s leveraged finance team, and in 2009, I became head of asset-based loan syndications, so right at the height of the financial crisis. Obviously, it was at a very busy, active time in the market but a time that was incredibly rewarding because as a firm, J.P. Morgan was able to step up and make a real difference in helping support our clients and ABL was a big part of that support.
From there, I moved into a more traditional leveraged loan and high-yield bond capital markets role covering retail, consumer and industrial clients around 2014, though I still maintained a strong involvement in ABL. I’d get involved in some of the larger, more complex syndicated deals at the time, but my primary responsibility was overseeing leveraged loans and high-yield bond executions. Then in 2018 I became the chief risk officer for ABL and now, after about two years in that role, I moved to become the head of the ABL business earlier this year.
Please tell us a bit about your short- and long-term goals in the new role.
I’ve been very fortunate that I’m stepping into an opportunity with a very well-established team that has great leadership in place.
Every day we all think about ways in which we can enhance and grow our business to better serve our clients, who remain at the absolute center of everything we do. And I think for us that really starts with building on the strong partnership that we have with our commercial banking and corporate and investment banking colleagues to help the clients we support meet their goals. We support some very dynamic businesses, so every day there’s an opportunity to be better at what we do and how we partner with them to support clients with differentiated advice and tailored solutions during good times and bad. Certainly this past year has offered plenty of challenges, but I’m encouraged by how we stepped up to support our key business partners and, more importantly, our clients through tough times.
As I mentioned earlier, I truly have benefitted from the leaders and mentors that I had along the way, and I want to give everybody on my team the same kind of opportunities that I’ve had in my career to advance and develop. So I’m very, very focused on building a long-term foundation for the culture of the business to help foster an inclusive environment focused on mentorship and develop a diverse group of talent to lead the business forward. If you do that, everybody is going to have a share in the ownership and execution of the overall plan, which will improve how we support and execute for our clients.
How have you had to pivot due to the pandemic, and what do you think the most significant effects of it have been on your business? And are there any lessons the industry could learn from this?
Like everyone, we’ve had to make adjustments due to all of the challenges, whether it’s the economic pressure that we saw facing a lot of our clients and our portfolio, trying to balance supporting clients while working from home, and all the changes that have come with that. I think everybody’s adapted pretty well and at the same time I think we’re all very much looking forward to getting back in front of clients and our team in person. I think the challenges we’ve experienced in the past year really make you appreciate what you have and really highlight some of the things that you miss, such as being with people and just the natural interactions that come from the job.
In this continued time of uncertainty, how do you see the year playing out for the industry? What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities right now?
I’m very optimistic. As far as the ABL industry goes, uncertainty around the outlook always tends to lend itself very favorably to ABL due to the flexibility the product can provide to borrowers. In fact, we regularly accommodate companies that have unpredictable, cyclical or seasonal cash flows and working capital requirements. As we think about beginning to emerge from the crisis and companies focus on growing again, ABL offers very flexible borrowing solutions to help capitalize on growth opportunities. I think there is going to be a tremendous opportunity for ABL to play a key role for many companies this year.
Are there beneficial changes in your business practice, brought on by the pandemic, which will survive as we return to a more normal business environment?
The pandemic has forced everyone to accelerate the pace at which they’re embracing technology. While many may have had the capability to work from home when necessary pre-COVID, we have demonstrated throughout the pandemic a remarkable ability to continue to excel in our jobs and be there for our clients without in-person meetings and many of the other resources on which we were traditionally reliant while in the office. From the pandemic’s outset, I have been very impressed with how our technology team has facilitated nearly seamless system access and functionality from home. Though nothing can replace the interpersonal connections that come from in-person team gatherings or client meetings, I do think the widespread adoption of video meetings through applications like Zoom will continue to bring people and groups together when in-person meetings aren’t possible or feasible.
How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
Most of my time is spent with family. I have three teenagers who all are very active. I have two boys that are active in sports and I have a daughter who dances. There are always plenty of activities to keep us busy on a regular basis and I enjoy every minute of it. Over the course of the last year, the silver lining has been that I’m able to spend a lot more quality time with them, things like family dinners that I just would not ordinarily have had the opportunity to be able to do.
I feel fortunate that over the course of the last year I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my kids. It won’t be long before they’re out of the house and I will feel lucky that I got to spend the extra quality time that I did with them this year. Also, I’m a big sports fan; baseball and skiing are my two favorites. I enjoy traveling, and so that’s something that I’ve desperately missed. Hopefully it’s something that we can all look forward to in 2021.