Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.
Beth and Debbie talk with Christina and Karen from First American Equipment Finance. The dynamic duo shares their inspiring journey in sales and finance, highlighting the significance of mentorship, complementary strengths, and the power of execution and strategic thinking. They also discuss innovative financing strategies for law firms, emphasizing the value of trust and authentic collaboration in leadership.
Links from the episode:
[06:38] Inspiring and mentoring go hand in hand
[10:56] The career path is not always a straight arrow
[14:22] A foundation of trust
[17:00] Raising the next generation of women
Debbie Foster (00:03):
Welcome to the Powerful Leaders, No Apologies podcast, a show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster.
Beth Thompson (00:12):
And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our website at affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders. Here’s the show. Hello, Debbie. We’re back for another episode. How are you today?
Debbie Foster (00:38):
I’m doing great. How are you doing?
Beth Thompson (00:40):
I am good. I am excited about today’s episode. Actually, this is going to be a fun one.
Debbie Foster (00:46):
I’m excited too. I’m excited. I think we are heading into a crazy busy season with the holidays and everything coming up. It has been a beautiful fall. I’ve gotten to travel. Beth, we got to see each other in person in San Antonio last week. There’s been a lot going on, so it’s good stuff.
Beth Thompson (01:04):
Yes, it is good stuff. But let’s dive right in because today’s a special episode. We actually have two guests and the reason that we have two guests, because these ladies I met together, every time I see them, they’re together, they work together, they’ve worked together for many years. We’ll hear all about them and they’re just inspiring. They are very supportive of one another, and I think you’ll understand why I wanted to do this dynamic duo together. Once we dive in, welcome to the show, Christina and Karen, it’s great to have you here today.
Karen Leastman (01:35):
Thank you. We’re so excited to be here.
Beth Thompson (01:37):
Awesome. Well, why don’t we start? We’d love to hear your stories. Tell us your backgrounds and how you came to work together and what you’re doing now. Either one of you can kick it off. Let’s dive right in.
Karen Leastman (01:47):
Well, I guess I’ll start. I am Karen. I work at First American Equipment Finance along with my colleague Christina, and I just celebrated my 20 year anniversary here. So right out of college I was drawn to First American. It was a sales job that had normal hours for the most part and had unlimited income potential. And as a young 20-year-old graduating from college with student loan debt, it just seemed like the perfect fit. It was a little bit of a startup company way back then. Not a lot of employees only been in business for a couple of years and it was a little bit of a risk to take a chance on them, but you’re young and so you have some time to rebound from that. And I started right in the legal vertical, so it was our first ever vertical that we worked at and it has grown exponentially year over year.
Christina came on board over a decade ago as well and we’ve been working together ever since. And so I will say one thing that I love about my job is that the legal community is just absolutely phenomenal. Our company works with many different verticals and I just love the comradery in legal. I love the fact that people stay and you build these relationships and then they move to another firm and it just compounds on each other. So either one of us are working with the same people year over year, and so it’s just been a very rewarding career and a great industry to be in.
Christina Floyd (03:08):
So I started my professional career. I was an intern. It was at the Berry Company, the LM Berry Company, which sold advertising for the Yellow Pages. So if anyone remembers the Yellow Pages, the big book that would get delivered, I would sell those ads.
So I was an intern and then they hired me on full-time and I worked there for a couple of years and the company was being bought and sold several times because was a dying industry when I joined. That really was a great learning experience though. They had phenomenal training, which still serves me to this day, but also just really made me think about where I needed to build my career and I needed to build my career in an industry that had sustainability. Writing was obviously on the wall for the yellow Pages at that point in time. So then I worked for an IT company and sold a proprietary phone system for a couple of years, which was another really great learning experience. The company was extremely small, it was a startup. The owner was always going to sell whether he verbalized or not, that was always what was going to happen.
And there was a time when I was put on a performance plan, I wasn’t doing well in sales and that was really just my push. I’m like, I got to get out. This is just not the right environment for me. And I had a previous colleague that was at First American and she’s like, you’ve got to apply here. You’ve got to apply here, Christina. I’m like, I don’t even know if I want to be in sales. I’m so demoralized from this past experience, I don’t know if I can continue. And it was really through this other woman pushing me and believing in me that I ended up applying. And I’ve been here over 13 years now and the funny thing is that Karen and I, we’ve worked together really since day one, but I remember when I was interviewing and they had me sit with Karen and Karen did a ride along with me and explain the systems and sort of wasn’t this employee interviewer at that point in time. And I can tell you how her hair was and what we discussed and it was just there are just sometimes people leave a mark on you and you remember when you meet them and Karen was one of those folks for me.
Beth Thompson (05:15):
I love that. Let’s talk a little bit about inspiration. We love to find out if there are any books that you’ve read that resonate that we should recommend to our listeners. Are there any podcasts that you’re listening to share a little bit of that with us?
Karen Leastman (05:30):
Yeah, so right now I’m currently reading Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty, which I started that book. It was highly recommended. A lot of people at work have read it and the first part of it I felt like was a little slow and then something clicked and it’s a great book so would very much recommend that. Another book I read recently was Cues Mastering the Secret Language of Charismatic, excuse me, communication, Vanessa van Edwards. And it’s all about nonverbal communication and that was a really interesting book for me to read and it’s a lot of the things that you would know if you think of the topic of nonverbal communication, but was really phenomenal reminders. And I find myself so many times when I am in person in front of folks remembering some of these things specifically, one thing that she said is that when you get nervous or you’re in an uncomfortable situation, people will typically shrink up their shoulders, shrug up their shoulders, and I find myself doing that.
I’m like, okay, relax. And that helps the conversation flow. So that’s been really great for me.
Christina Floyd (06:38):
Yeah, I think a lot about inspiring and mentoring and that kind of thing. I always go back to I’m really a big proponent of mentors and finding good quality mentors in your life. And I was fortunate enough, one of my college professors, she taught a professional finance course on personal finance and she had a connection to a family member of mine and we’ve kept in touch all of these years. We go walk every Friday morning and to have a woman that’s powerful in your life that has lived a life, a long successful marriage, a financial career in the industry and then has gone on to do nonprofit work and to, she’s actually went back to school actually this year again to study even more in her retirement age just because she has that thirst for knowledge and for growth.
It’s just been such a huge impact on my life to bounce ideas off of and just to get advice when I think that I’m in the right and she points me out that I’m in the wrong and those types of guidance through your life. And so I really think mentorship is huge. We actually just start, I had this email come up a year and a half or two years ago and it was about a women in sales conference and I just thought it was really interesting. I never saw anything like that before. And we always, in sales, we always had to go to these conferences to learn how to sell better and these kinds of things, but I’m like, I’m not really at that point in my career anymore. I really wanted something a little bit more deeper. And I asked the company if they would sponsor a group of ladies to go to this conference and it was amazing and we were able to come back and there’s a lot of things that you think about with women and sales and women and just DEI groups in general.
And the topic that kept coming up was equality versus equity. And it just really stuck with me because as females in sales or minorities in any role in their company and in their lives, it’s a very male dominated world that we live in. And it was just great to be able to bring that back to First American, all those types of little tidbits we had. We ended up starting a employee resource group, which was great. Women in business, women in sales here at First American. And really I love the mentoring that has come from that. We can, in different points of your career, you’re able to offer different things. And at this point in our career, we really want to give back and do that mentorship to others that we’ve grown from and developed over the years.
Beth Thompson (09:02):
We feel the same way. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this podcast is not only for us as colleagues and peers to learn from each other, but to help the next generation coming up and learning and helping to pave the way and understand we’ve been there, done that, and here’s how we came through it. Which is a perfect segue to talking a little bit about challenges or obstacles that you’ve maybe felt had in your career and how you overcame those. I don’t know if you have an example or two that you could share with us, that’d be amazing.
Christina Floyd (09:34):
When I think of challenges in my career, I had mentioned that there was a job so many years ago that I was put on a performance plan. Obviously that was a challenge. I always had been a high performing employee and this company, it just wasn’t clicking for me what we sold, but we did the culture of the company and I was not performing my best. I understand why they put me on a performance plan, but that was an extremely challenging moment when that happens. It was a really great kick in the pants for me to realize that, hey, this is not where I’m going to be successful. But that was scary being 20 something years old and having that experience and thinking that I might lose my job. I think another challenge in my career when I just think of my career at First American is the first couple of years, it takes a long time to get going in any career and they are very upfront with how long it takes to start being successful and getting comfortable in the role, but I thought I would be able to come in and do it a little bit faster, and that did not prove to be the case.
They are very stringent on the hiring, and so when they say it takes X amount of months, that’s usually with people that are, everyone’s coming in and thinking they can do it faster and better. So I remember feeling a lot of frustration during that time.
Karen Leastman (10:56):
The job is definitely really challenging. It’s very much the grind every day. I remember being very young in the industry and I’m selling to CFOs and CIOs that were primarily middle aged men or older. I’m like, how are they going to listen to me? It was definitely a little bit of a boys’ club mentality back in those days. It really felt like you weren’t really making a difference. You weren’t really pushing through. Now you look back at the span of your career, and I always tell people, I go, if you believe in what you’re doing and you’re doing every day the steps to grow and to be successful, eventually successful follow.
You don’t know when that will be, right? We don’t know when, but when you look back, it’s just amazing that these points in your life or these challenges that you’ve overcome have always impacted you and made you who you are today unapologetically so and so. I think that’s just so important that there are challenges and there’s road bumps and a sales career does not like a straight arrow. It looks very much all over the place valley. Yes, and everybody’s path is completely different, but it is very rewarding and great, the impact that you can have on an industry or in your life.
Debbie Foster (12:09):
I have two questions for you guys. When Beth said, Hey, we should have these ladies on, I was like, yes, we totally should. So my first question is, I would love to know how you work very closely together. How do you support each other at work and what happens when you don’t agree? And then my second question is tell us how you help people practically how you help people. But first I want to hear how you support each other and what happens when you don’t agree on something.
Christina Floyd (12:39):
I think that Karen and I have very different strengths and we have very complimentary strengths. So just as for instance, Karen is a phenomenal networker. So anytime we have to go to a conference, she’s always, this is where we need to be. This is where everyone else is going to be. We’re going to meet X, Y, and Z person. And I’m always a little bit reading my nonverbal communication book with my social anxiety, and so she is pulling me along and saying, no, we’re going to do this. It’s going to be great. I think that’s one way that Karen helps support me. I think in terms of when we disagree just between all of us, there’s probably probably a good fight once a year, probably a big, big disagreement once a year. But we also know that that happens once a year and sometimes one or both of us needs some time.
But the reality is it’s been over a decade that we’ve worked together and we often joke, this has lasted longer than most marriages and we’re committed. We’re in it for the long haul.
Karen Leastman (13:48):
Yes, Christina, she has so many great strengths. She’s a phenomenal negotiator. She is a team leader. And one thing I really love about her is she’s so visionary. We would have a meeting and we’re all talking about all the things we’ve always done in the past, what’s worked, and she just comes up with this vision or this idea or this next level, and we all look at her. That’s never been done before. How are we going to do that? And I’m kind of like the fixer and the doer of the thing. So I’m like, okay, I see your vision. I get it now. Keep explaining to me until I can get it.
And then we come together and we just push things forward. And it’s just so great to see when you can be a team that can really just drive change. And we’ve done it many different times in our career and it’s just been amazing the things that we can accomplish together. But the disagreements do come, they do a hundred percent come. Christina likes to sit on things and simmer. I’m a fixer, so I want to fix things instantly. I don’t like tension, I just want to rip the bandaid off. What’s the issue? Let’s fix it. But other personalities are different in how they handle, and Christina needs to let it simmer and it takes a couple days and she waits until she’s calmed down and she’s thought through things and then we have a conversation. So while I sit at the edge of my seat waiting for her to come to her realizations to talk to me, I know that she needs that process to get through that so that we can have a very good conversation and move forward.
Debbie Foster (15:14):
I love that. We talk a lot about the foundation of trust being the basis for a relationship. And when you trust each other and you can have healthy conflict and you can talk about hard things, you can get through a lot, you can get through almost anything. And it sounds like you all really have that foundation of trust. You know that you always have each other’s back, but you might not agree all the time on everything and you’re leveraging each other’s strengths. Totally cool. I love that. Now tell us how you help people.
Christina Floyd (15:47):
So Karen and I both do a lot of mentorship within First American. It’s always been very important to me to give back. There were so many colleagues that helped me when I was newer to the company. And so that’s just as my career has grown, that’s always been something that I remember and I want to do for the next generation. So we do have a formal mentorship program. I typically don’t participate in the formal mentorship program only because unofficially outside of that program, I will have folks coming to me and asking to be my mentor. And I look at mentorship as not something that is a six week time commitment or a 12 week time commitment. I look at it as something that really is ongoing until the end of time. No, but for as long as someone might need that. And there are folks that I maybe mentored years ago that we would meet pretty regularly once a week, once a month type of thing that now they check in once a year and they want to sit down and have a conversation.
And I love that. I love that connection that they would still come to me and still think of me as a mentor, even as they are also very successful in mentoring other folks in their careers.
Karen Leastman (17:00):
Christina is well known at First American for the impact she’s had on So many people are always popping by her desk, getting her take on things. It’s part of the visionary that she is. She really does a good job of you come to her and you’re like, I’m struggling with this. And she’s like, have you looked at it like this though? And you’re like, ah. It’s like those aha moments. And I love that always. She helps me so much. I love it. I think I’m more passionate about, how do I explain this? I am very passionate about raising as I have girls, raising and helping other women become emotionally and financially independent.
I think those are my two most passionate things about younger women today. And we can get beat down a lot as females and in the different environments that we may be in, we may be placed in, we may choose to be in or however we’re in those environments. And it’s really important to have someone that advocates for you when you’re at your lowest or when you feel like you’re stuck and you may not feel like you have a voice. And so that’s something that’s really near and dear to me. So making sure our younger females are investing in their 4 0 1 kss to helping women who may be going through divorce or very difficult points in their life where they just need someone to be on their side and lift them up and push them through. So that’s pretty much what I’m most passionate about
Beth Thompson (18:23):
As most of our listeners are in the legal community in some way, shape or form. Tell everyone what First American does. What do you guys do on a daily basis? How do you help law firms?
Karen Leastman (18:33):
Oh my goodness.
Christina Floyd (18:35):
So First American at its core does project financing, and Karen and I are focused obviously in the legal industry as we’re here chatting with all of you. But we do have many other industries that the company serves such as healthcare, education, insurance, manufacturing, just to name a few. And the company as a whole will put, I believe it’s 1.8 billion on new leases this year. And so our law firm practice, although significant is still a small chunk of the overall company and what we’re doing for law firms, the projects that we are typically helping to lease to finance are technology projects of all kinds, software implementations. And then the third project is our largest and probably the least associated with us, but it’s office build out initiatives and we can help finance anything over the tenant improvement allowance. And we do projects from 50,000 to 50 million.
Debbie Foster (19:34):
So any potential listener, anyone who’s listening, who’s looking for a creative way to finance something that they want to do that they for whatever reason, don’t want to pay cash for, whether they don’t have it or they just don’t want to use it, that’s something that you all can come in. I love that. Anything above the tenant improvement, that’s something that I had never even really thought of because people really try to stay in that budget, but that’s not always practical. So another place you can help them, technology build outs. Was there one more thing besides technology and build outs?
Karen Leastman (20:08):
Software projects, it’s interesting too because there’s a variety of different products that we offer, much like a bank arrangement, but then there’s also some specific tax benefits. So those buildout projects really kind of fall into the, if you’re looking at a different tax benefit for these types of initiatives, that’s the value add that we’re able to provide firms. It’s been really fun. We’ve gotten to see some of the office buildouts that we’ve done some of the larger ones and they’ve just been so beautiful, so gorgeous. It’s a little bit more exciting to look at than a bunch of laptops rolling in.
Debbie Foster (20:39):
I bet. For sure. And those are some cool stories to tell, especially as people are re-imagining space. So I love that you all can be a great resource to people who are thinking about that because I’m assuming it’s not just the financing, it’s the end result. But if someone’s looking to do a project like that, you all have done enough of them that you could even give them some, talk through it with them and talk about what a project like that could look like and what it could mean for them. And like you said, how it can help them from a tax perspective. So love that
Christina Floyd (21:10):
For sure. We’ve made so many friends in the industry as well with different business partners that we’ve partnered with for these types of initiatives across all the initiatives that we actually offer. And so the business partner community is so large and it’s great to be able to share and introduce people to other people. When you’re struggling with where do you start? You get this big price tag on a project and you just don’t know where to go. And you’d be like, have you talked to, So-and-So over there, I know that they’ve done a lot of these implementations and you’re able to bring in the relationships that you built over the years and everyone wins together. It’s a great community for that, and it’s a great close-knit environment for able to help others. We absolutely, we love making new connections and facilitating introductions where we can.
Debbie Foster (21:55):
I have a follow-up question that actually, I hadn’t really thought about this before. So it’s a little bit of a selfish question from a how do we help our clients? But if one of our clients is signing up for a new cloud-based product where there’s an annual subscription and they have to pay that annual subscription upfront, that would be another way that they could work with you to finance that out over 12 months. And then can you just pay it every year and then they pay it for the 12 months following and then you pay it again and they pay it back? Yes.
Karen Leastman (22:29):
A newer way. We’ve been helping firms, especially with some of the large license costs, you can do a multi-year negotiation and asked to be billed annually. And so if you do a three-year license and we billed annually, you’re saving a significant cost savings on that. And then we can spread out the payments each year over 12 months. And no secret that we’ve been in a dynamic banking environment for a period of time now, and we’ve always offered 12 month financing, but I would say that it’s very much been on the uptick the last year or two. Right. Law firms are very lumpy. Sometimes it depends on the different industries that they’re serving from a legal perspective. But if your license comes due in January and you’re doing partner distributions that same month, they’re probably not going to want to pay that. Right? I mean, obviously the budget for things, but sometimes it makes sense to spread that cost out more evenly. You’re a month over month.
Debbie Foster (23:21):
Yeah. I love that. That’s a great tip. Thank you for sharing that. And we’ll make sure in the show notes we have your contact information and your LinkedIn profiles and that kind of stuff so people are listening and they’re interested in talking to you all about a project. They can reach out to you directly.
Karen Leastman (23:36):
I love that. Thank you.
Beth Thompson (23:38):
So one final question, I want to leave a few minutes for this since we have two of you to be able to answer. We ask our guests what your leadership superpower is, and we would love to hear one or two superpowers for each of you.
Christina Floyd (23:53):
Can I do Karen’s?
Beth Thompson (23:54):
That sounds even more fun. Why don’t you tell each other what your superpowers are?
Christina Floyd (23:58):
That’s the advantage of having a duo. Okay. So when I think of Karen, I think of her superpower, I would say it’s execution. And she had mentioned that I got an email and there was this women’s conference and First American took a group of ladies. We had never had a conference that a group of women had gone to, and Karen had just gotten this email. And a lot of us get emails for a lot of things every day that we just delete. And so the way she says it makes it sound like, oh, it just happened. But there was a lot of work behind that that she had to petition the company and bring that idea to the forefront. And I just think how many of us would’ve just deleted that email or not even read it? So that’s just one example that I think she is phenomenal at executing.
And also just things going down to, we go to a lot of conferences every year, as I know both of you do. And Karen just has always phenomenal energy around the conferences. She makes a strategy, she makes a list of everyone she wants to talk to, everything she wants to accomplish, and she will go through that list and accomplish every single one of those tasks when we’re at the conference. And the phenomenal thing is because we work so closely together, she’s bringing me along and saying, okay, Christina, who are your people? Let’s make sure this is successful for the both of us. So I just think that execution is so amazing and such a superpower. My gosh, I can’t top that.
Karen Leastman (25:29):
You’re so kind. When I think of Christina, a hundred percent the strategic thinker, visionary person, our company goes to Christina for advice. I mean, just the way she looks at things is just differently from a complete different lens. And there’s not a lot of people that can really take a step back from the day-to-Day and the task oriented kind of things that we do and say, wait, let’s just take a step back and what do we want to accomplish? And this new path? And she forges new paths in so many different areas, not only at First American, but within legal and what we’ve done and we’ve been able to accomplish together. And then the encourager aspect, I mean people stopping by her desk. I just want to pick your brain about this, I want to get your thoughts on that. And every year we do these award nominations at First American and she’s always a top contender of someone lifting her up in some capacity just because of just the amount of time that she’s invested in other people at the company, and it’s just truly remarkable. So yeah, she’s my better half in a lot of ways. So lasted longer than most marriages.
Beth Thompson (26:39):
This has been amazing. This is why I wanted the dynamic duo on together because it’s just so refreshing to see and hear, and we’ve all been on the bad side of female competitiveness, and this is really refreshing and great to see. We thank you so much for being with us today. I think you’ve given some really great advice, and this is a wonderful example of women supporting each other. So thank you so much.
Debbie Foster (27:07):
I agree. It’s a really great example, and thank you guys for just being candid about all the amazing things, but also that it’s not always perfect because not everybody shares that part. And I think that’s cool to just be really authentic about what a working relationship looks like.
Christina Floyd (27:23):
Thank you so much for having us. This was wonderful.
Beth Thompson (27:29):
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network.
Debbie Foster (27:39):
And check out our show notes at affinityconsulting.com slash powerful leaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.