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Podcast: ‘On the Job’ with FreedomRoad Financial EVP and Managing Director Tom Collins

People say following a passion leads to career success, but not many actually follow that passion. One exception is Tom Collins, executive vice president and managing director of FreedomRoad Financial; early in his career, Collins followed his passion for motorcycles and went on to build two powersports lending programs from the ground up. 

Collins started out in the auto industry managing the indirect auto lending program at Cole Taylor Bank in Chicago. He broke into powersports lending when he approached his boss about starting an indirect motorcycle lending arm at the bank, and was given the green light to do so, Collins tells Auto Finance News in this episode of “On the Job.” 

After a stint at Harley-Davidson Financial Services leading the lender’s operation center in Carson City, Nev., Collins went on to help establish FreedomRoad Financial, which opened as a division of Evergreen Bank Group in 2007. 

At that time, he says, he considered no job too little and knew that every employee had to chip in with each aspect of the business in order to get it off the ground — and he continues to manage with the same mentality today, he said.  

“I would clean the bathrooms, scrub the toilets and take out the garbage, and people that are still with us saw that and saw that we’re all part of this team,” Collins said.   

In this podcast episode, Collins speaks with AFN Senior Associate Editor Riley Wolfbauer about lessons he has learned during his career and how he conducts himself as a leader.

“On the Job” is a quarterly podcast profiling an executive in the auto finance and powersports finance industries, covering lessons they have learned and leadership strategies they employ within their organizations. 

Subscribe to “The Roadmap Podcast” on iTunes or Spotify, or download the episode.  

Auto Finance Summit, the premier industry event for auto lending and leasing, returns Oct. 29-31 at the Bellagio Las Vegas and features fireside chats with Vroom and Ford Credit. To learn more about the 2023 event and register, visit here.   

Editor’s note: This transcript has been generated by software and is being presented as is. Some transcription errors may remain. 

Riley Wolfbauer 0:02
Hello everyone and welcome to on the job a new series on the roadmap from auto finance news that brings on an executive team from the auto finance industry to discuss what they have learned throughout their career and strategies they employ to be a strong leader within their organization. I’m Riley wolf power, and today I’m joined by Executive Vice President and Managing Director of freedom road financial Tom Collins. Tom, thank you for joining me on the podcast today.Tom Collins 0:27
Riley, thanks for having me. It’s appropriate to do the interview with the day after Labor Day talk about talking about the job. So looking forward to this.Riley Wolfbauer 0:37
Yeah, for sure. So let’s start a little bit with career background and what you love about the industry. So my first question for you is, how did you get into power sports and what has made you stick around the industry for so long?Tom Collins 0:50
Yeah, you know, like, like many in this industry that we’ve made careers, out of the power sports, it was because I had a love and a passion for the sport and for the lifestyle. So I was from a young age, I had motorcycles, rode motorcycles, and I was working at a bank doing most of the lending, mostly auto lending, and I approached the boss about doing motorcycle lending. And this was many, many years ago, bikers, you know, motorcyclists didn’t have a little bit of a rougher reputation. In fact, he kind of made his point be known when he said to me, you know, how he felt about my new business proposal was when he said, what’s the one thing of Hoover vacuum cleaner, and a motorcycle have in common, and he’s like, a dirt bag sits on top of both of them. So as first time I heard that joke, and that kind of cut a little hard for me, because at the time, I owned a 1200 Sportster, which he didn’t know anything about, but I took them on a field trip to a Harley dealer outside Chicago, he met the owner, some of the customers and he finally gave me a green light. And, and I was doing doing it kind of on the side with the main business, but I wanted to do it full time. And Harley Davidson financial services came calling and, and that was an opportunity to do this, this thing full time with with power sports. And so I, I left the debt for 10 years. And then the opportunity to start FreedomRoad came along, a friend of mine had started a bank, he wanted a bank with a niche, and power sports is going to be that niche. So we fired up freedom route, and we’re going into our 17th. Year this our 17th year in business.Riley Wolfbauer 2:47
I’ve I’ve never heard that joke before. That’s a new one to me too.

Tom Collins 2:51
I will tell you though, the problem getting into this business and being that you love and have a passion for it. And I spoken to dealer principals about this, and they had the same problem. You know, we got into the business because we love it, we have enthusiasm for it. But we ended up riding motorcycles, less than we ever did before. It’s very frustrating. I currently have six motorcycles that are melting into my garage floor. We actually fine one of them, I moved into the corner of my living room. So I can I can at least look at that. But, you know, it’s especially an issue for me living in cold weather state where you know, the riding season, you know, as bad as long as the lifespan of a mayfly. So by time, you know, you slow down, because you know, more cycles, kind of seasonal time you slow down, it’s too late to ride. So that’s the only frustrating part is I ride less than I ever used to. And I got to figure out how to change that.

Riley Wolfbauer 3:48
Well, I hope you got out over the long Labor Day weekend, especially since there’s so much All right. So what is a lesson or two that you learned early in your career that you still carry to this day? Like what have you learned from being in this business?

Tom Collins 4:09
Well, I mean, in this business in particular, it’s like, sometimes it does become a job and just forget about, you know, we forget about how much fun it really is, and, and for us approving people on loans. You know, we’re making, you know, dreams come true, you know, I mean, we’re just really so you don’t want to lose that excitement just for the person on the other end that you don’t see what the dealer sees is it’s a big day for them, you know, it’s a day they’ll never forget. Last whether you’re a novice writer, just new to the sport or a seasoned veteran and bought many bikes before it’s always you know, from someone who’s who’s owned a lot of bikes as well as a lot of bikes it’s, it’s every time you get a bike doesn’t matter. You know, it’s a special day you don’t forget that day. So that’s from from being in this business. But I say early early on in my career very early. Yeah, it was it was really simple stuff, like, be organized, take good notes, you know, write things down, I was fresh out of college, I made some, you know, mistakes. You know, I remember working in a branch and I was supposed to cover a shift at a different branch, and I completely forgot about it. And, yeah, I let someone down and head tell it took me aside and said, Hey, this is what you gotta do, you gotta get a date plan. I know, sounds goofy in today’s world of iPhones and stuff, but back then they didn’t exist of course, and, and write things down, be organized. So. So that’s what I do. That’s one of the early lessons I learned. You know, you know, when when the actions become automatic, when it’s innate, you know, sort of like the muscle memory for an athlete, you know, you’re gonna, you’re gonna, it’s results are gonna be good, it’s gonna be better consistency, you’re not gonna make those mistakes. So I took that from, you know, early, early on my career still carry it for today.

Riley Wolfbauer 6:02
Yeah, when I was when I was in college, I hated taking those for classes. But ever since I’ve started a full time career, I take notes on everything. So I’ve definitely, definitely found the importance on that.

Tom Collins 6:14
is true. Yeah. So simple, simple thing. So, so crucial, I think.

Riley Wolfbauer 6:20
So what would you say has been the best moment of your career? And how is it something that you learn from to make yourself better? Or just maybe it was a proof of, you’ve been working at something for a long time, and it turned out the way you wanted it to? Like, what is one of those moments for you throughout your career?

Tom Collins 6:43
Okay, so I think the, the single best moment, I mean, there’s been a lot of them, especially in this business, I said, it’s fun business, and there’s lots of cool moments. And every day, something happens, that’s exciting or fun. Whether it be an interaction with the customer dealer know from a customer, coworker, but the ones that one of the things that stands out was probably when we you know, open up freedom road, we hung out our shingle, you know, saying that we’re open for business. And to see that first retail application loan credit application come through for someone purchasing the motorcycle. Me and the team. You know, remember that day very well, it was pretty exciting to say, okay, hey, all the hard work, we put in behind the scenes before we opened our doors, like so hung on our single, here’s the, here’s the first first application we’re off and running. So that was a pretty, pretty exciting moment. And, you know, when that was a lot of hard work and hair loss aspects. And in that very, in that very day, it was very exciting.

Riley Wolfbauer 7:53
Awesome. So now that you talked about a bus moment, what would you say has been a worst moment in your career? A big mistake that you made, that you learned from? I know, you already touched on one. But is there is there another one that comes to mind?

Tom Collins 8:14
The worst moment. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. But as far as like, overall, the worst moment was not long after we started up the company in the euphoria from being a startup and starting down our journey and our path to hopefully, success was in building something that was solid, you know, long came the Great Recession. So we did our first loan, and oh, seven, and then the Great Recession hit Oh, wait, so it wasn’t too much longer before. We were fighting for our lives. And, and, of course, the Great Recession, threatened to tear down everything that we had built up until that point. So that was, that was a worst moment. You know, we were losing money and losing a lot of it. And, you know, we have a bank, we’re bank charter. And you know, things with banks, you know, is our main regulator, the FDIC, they really don’t let you lose money for very long as a bank before they come in and shut you down. So that was a tough time. But you know, it’s always darkest before the dawn and that time passed, we just found ourselves in a bad situation partly of our own making. You know, that gets into some of some of the mistakes we may have made, or they may have made when we started out but and then part of it was out of our control. It was more macro, which is frustrating, but you know, we just focused on what we could control and knew that the down cycle was going to last. And you know, we came out of it so came out stronger we had I look back on that time is very stressful time. Actually, I used to Smoking, I started smoking again. During that time. I quit shortly thereafter and Ben, Ben Sira three cents. That’s cool. But it varies with us today. So it was a bad time, but carries with us today, from the standpoint of, we have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, you know, we were a little bit of paranoia. A little bit of thoughts about, well, these people are smarter than us, these people are better than us. They’re, they have more resources, they have more money. And, you know, the only thing that we can do, which we saw during the Great Recession is work hard focus on what we can control. We had an internal focus of control, you know, sort of focus on what we can control, work hard work harder than anyone else. And we’ll be we’ll be okay. And, you know, I think those words, you know, you think about the satin, back to that timeframe. We’re in a similar situation today, right? Where we’re at the purposes of the most anticipated recession in human history, I think, are we in a recession hasn’t happened? Is it gonna be a soft landing, hard landing, we can skip a recession? Who knows? You know, that’s all we’ve been talking about last year. So again, last things we can’t control. But what we can control we’re going to work hard at and I think we’ll be fine. You know, we’ve been through this once before. And we’ll come through whatever’s coming down the pike as well, that later this year, or next year, whenever.

Riley Wolfbauer 11:31
So now I want to shift over a little bit to how you try to lead and how you try to carry yourself in your position at Freedom road. So my first question for you is, how do you aim to lead your team day in and day out?

Tom Collins 11:46
All right, yeah, good question. Well, I would say, myself, and all the managers, we all have paddles. And we all get in that boat. And we row like everyone else. Right? So I know that, you know, we need to spend time focusing on vision strategy analysis, reporting, metrics, etc, all those things that, quote, unquote, you know, managers do. But when the team needs help, we’re all a team, we’re right in the boat rowing with them. And they see that, and that’s huge. And it really goes back to our startup days. Where it was a very small operation, it was, you know, it’s like, you know, operationally Bootstrap, everyone did everything. And you do whatever it took. You know, we had a small team, and we didn’t, we weren’t making money. We were just startups, we didn’t have clean service, we had a small office, I didn’t feel like they could tell people, hey, I need you to take out the garbage and clean the bathroom. So guess what I did that, you know, so I, I would clean the bathrooms and clean, scrub the toilets and take out the garbage. And people that are still with us saw that and saw that we’re all part of this team. We’re all going to work, I’m going to do what I can I’m going to row the boat just like you are. And so they’ll see, you know, they’ll see me or the car managers jump in and answer fall. They’ll see us in the queue, working deals, when it’s really busy. It’s a picky business, right? So it’s super, super busy and time special on Saturday. And then, you know, it slows down on, you know, Sunday, Monday is not as busy. But, you know, in order to handle the volume and give the service levels that we’re committed to everyone has to pitch in at times and roll the ball. And that’s what we do.

Riley Wolfbauer 13:35
So how when leading your team, how do you ensure that the company’s goals are aligned from top to bottom and that everybody on your team is on the same page?

Tom Collins 13:59
You know, I think it’s really about service. The goal everyone knows, well, first of all, everyone kind of knows we have different departments. You know, if you look at our business leasing operations side, you got underwriting funding, titles, customer service collection, throwing sales and marketing, but they’re all separate distinct part departments, and they all do crucial jobs. But everyone knows how everyone’s job and what they’re doing impacts the other. So, for instance, an underwriting knows if if they’re sloppy with their underwriting put on a bad loan that, you know, it’s going to roll down to the collection department, they’re going to have to try and collect an uncollectible loan, you know, so everyone knows how their job impacts everyone else’s, we’re cognizant of that. But what what really what we’re focused on, and we have certain, you know, metrics that that we’re measuring as far as you know, DQ losses, you know, Boehner rates call back times that kind of stuff. But it’s really a focus on the customer, the dealer and our OEM partners. So we ensure that all the goals are lined up by being focused on great service to our customers, into our dealers, everyone knows that, that is the most important thing to me. And that is the thing that is our competitive strength I feel, and in separates us, a dealer can call us up, they can talk to us, they can talk about a deal. And we welcome those conversations.

Riley Wolfbauer 15:37
So is there a certain way you tried to carry yourself or a mindset you try to keep in your approach to the job every day, especially since you’re talking about how it’s a demanding job? And how does that affect your team overall?

Tom Collins 15:57
I think it’s one thing, no ego, although, if you talk, talk to my wife, and people know me, while they might have left if that statement, but I Okay, so maybe we’ll say, suppress your ego. And so, you know, that’s, that’s what I what I tried to do. And certainly I do do this, there’s no pride in authorship. You know, I love what I do, and unfortunately, had to have had this opportunity and 17 years in still and loved going to work, you know, and working every day. But I think with the staff and my colleagues, they don’t need my permission to improve processes or change things, you know. And it’s funny, because, you know, I remember how things were done. We’re a bigger company now. And when did this process change? And they’re like, Oh, that was like, a year ago, we did this, this and this as much better than I would have done, you know, it’s, it’s better than the process that I had in place or that I helped implement. And so that’s what I love is that my colleagues and employees, you know, the whole team is looking at how to do things better, they don’t need my input, they don’t need my permission, and they change it to make it better. And and I think that’s, that’s great. You know, I used to back in the day used to answer the, you know, I said, we bootstrapping, we did everything is to answer phone calls, dealers, you’d call and I still I told you today, you know that we still have that rock the boat mentality jump in and answer the phone. I don’t really answer the phone anymore. Just because the dealers would be like, time you’re answering the phone, you know, they think I’m having problems. What are you doing to answer the phone? So I don’t really answer the phone anymore. But I suppose to so many viewers have my my cell phone, they reach out to me text me whatever. And they’ll ask me a question. They call me and ask me about something little detail or whatever. And I’m like, man, you know, I just I just run the place. I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to your question. So let me get you someone who can answer your question. I hope that doesn’t sound terrible, but you know, it’s, um, you know, focused on some other things. But I think it’s a compliment to to the team, and that they know more about the nuances in the in the day to day of the business that I do. And they’ve improved what they’ve been given. And that’s, that’s fantastic.

Riley Wolfbauer 18:26
Yeah, so there’s a little bit of you, you’re not having to be over top of everything. And you give your you give your team the freedom of making decisions.

Tom Collins 18:36
Yeah, absolutely. And if they want to make something bind me bounce them off me. Absolutely. But, you know, they want to run with it, and then I’m fine with that as well. No.

Riley Wolfbauer 18:48
All right, Tom. Well, that about does it for today’s episode. Thank you for joining me today, and thanks to our audience for joining us on the roadmap. We’ll see you next time and online at Auto Finance News. dotnet.

Tom Collins 19:03
Riley, I got one more thing for you. We’re Spartan fans, so go green.

Riley Wolfbauer 19:07
Go white. Podcast: ‘On the Job’ with FreedomRoad Financial EVP and Managing Director Tom Collins

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