The lessors’ entrepreneur: a profile of Bob Rinaldi of CI Finance and ELFA

rinaldi rob

Bob Rinaldi is a firm optimist when forecasting the future of equipment leasing in the US.

“Immediately following the Great Recession,” he said, “more leasing was done by bank-owned lessors than by the independents. Ultimately, increased compliance & regulation requirements, coupled with advice from their many auditors, made them only do the deals which entailed the least risk.

“However, it served to encourage the remaining independent leasing companies to be more entrepreneurial, for example look at the resurgence of the equipment leasing asset backed securitization market.  Moreover, since the recession some people left the bank owned (or other heavily regulated entities) leasing companies and decided to set up on their own – being creative and imaginative in their ability to create financing solutions. This, together with the new entrants into the market, is ensuring that the industry is heading for full recovery.”

He added: “Our industry has always been robust and able to adjust to new circumstances and hopefully the current presidential result will serve to reduce regulation and encourage a renewed spirit of entrepreneurism and possibility. At the same time the new technologies that are coming in, such as Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing, will revolutionize the industry and make the next decade a very exciting time to be in the leasing industry.”

And there are few leasing executives who have shown more successful enterprise and business initiative in their careers than Bob Rinaldi.

A possible veterinarian

Yet his early years seemed to indicate that he was heading towards a career treating disease and injuries amongst large farm and domestic animals!

Rinaldi was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He had taken an early interest in the activities at the local racetrack, helping out as groom and stable-hand after school and vacations. He also met up regularly with the attending vets and it was this that inspired him to study at Michigan State University for a BS in Ag Biochem & Animal Science with the aim of following a career as a veterinarian.

However, further study at vet school was not to come about and in 1981 he took a career swerve and, following the example of his brother Vince, joined Xerox as a salesman.

“The truth is,” he said, “that business never crossed my mind in the four years at college, but I needed a job or either go into research. Finally, I decided to take the opportunity to learn the art of solutions selling from the best – Xerox – and joined up with my brother and mentor, Vince. The training was in fact spectacular, and I learned how to sell monthly payments as standard, and learned that selling was nothing more than helping a customer find a solution to a problem that it was, or was not, entirely aware!”

In 1985 he moved on to computer lessor, Finalco to join up again with his brother Vince, and following its dissolution two years later, at 26 years of age, he joined a newly-formed company, Information Leasing Corporation (ILC) as its first full-time sales rep & employee.

He told Asset Finance International: “The company had already gained a couple of vendor programs in the copier,  PC, laptops and IT services sectors and together with my brother Vince and partners Denny and Mike, we began to build the company from scratch.”

A great opportunity

It proved to be a great opportunity for an ambitious young man who had attained an early background in IT sales. His position was executive vice president and principal. “It was a great team,” he laughed, “whose talents meshed well together and we worked on the premise of ‘have fun and make money’. The result was that by 2004 ILC had grown by around 25% each year to a total of $1 billion in new financing and $3 billion in assets – with full national coverage.”

During this time the principal skills that Rinaldi brought to the company included creativity and new pathways for growth, while his partners Mike and Denny were “ brilliant at sales management and process and Vince provided inspiring leadership”. “My objective,” he added, “was to work at organic and inorganic growth strategies, for the more businesses we could buy or create the greater would be our growth by vertical integration. And so it proved.”

In 1996, after some 10 years, ILC was acquired by Cincinnati-based Provident Bank and, in a corporate move almost without parallel in the US, the current directors were left in place to continue running the company. Rinaldi was retained as senior vice president and he and his colleagues were rewarded for their entrepreneurial vision.

“Provident Bank was an incredibly creative entity,” Rinaldi stressed, “with some really bright people in charge. They didn’t think as traditional bankers – but rather viewed business opportunities in a positive commercial manner.”

Over the following four years Provident Bank was sold to two successive banks and with each successive acquisition ILC grew to become the fifth-largest bank-owned leasing company in the US with annual originations of $3 billion and well over $9 billion in assets. But, as he explained: “with that it became more like a bank and the ‘fun’ was slowly and inexorable eroded. Hence my inevitable departure was partially forced – but mostly self-imposed.”

Small-ticket business

Therefore, once again becoming an employee, in 2004, as executive vice president he joined National City Commercial Capital (NC4), now PNC, and president of NC4 Canada. Upon his departure from PNC in 2010 he joined CSI Leasing as senior vice president with responsibilities for its organic and inorganic growth strategies, a familiar role. In 2014 he made his current move and acquired a 50% share in Commercial Industrial Finance (CI Finance) a small-ticket equipment finance company headquartered in St. Louis. He joined as chief executive officer and partner with would-be good friend Scott Hawkins.

“Scott Hawkins and his team at CI Finance made a great team,” he said, “they were fun to be around and it was exciting growing the light industrial financing business. We didn’t have much time to grow it however, since a little over a year later we sold the company to CBank. 

Scott and I would continue to run CI Finance as a wholly owned subsidiary with a good deal of autonomy.  For my part I also took on the bank roles of senior vice president and board director.

“CBank, led by CEO Dean Meiszer, is a great community bank with all the attributes I admire the most – good people, great team, hard work, fun to be with – and an entrepreneurial attitude. It specializes in private banking and commercial and industrial lending to small businesses.”

Enter the ELFA

Rinaldi first got directly involved with the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA) in 1993 whilst at ILC. He explained; “I’m the sort of person who is always pushing and trying to do something different. I find myself saying ‘yes, I can do that!’ and before long a found myself chair of ELFA’s political action committee (LeasePAC) and then onto the Board.”

In fact Rinaldi’s service at ELFA has been significant and much lauded. In October he concluded his role as the immediate past chairman of the association (“I’d like to think I changed a few things and made some positive contribution”), and also a current member of the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation’s Research Subcommittee and Development Committee.

In recognition of his service, he was the recipient of the Foundation Research Committee’s 2013 Steven R. LeBarron Award for Principled Research and the ELFA’s 2014 David H. Fenig Distinguished service in Advocacy Award.

Bob Rinaldi is the first to admit that his success in business has depended immensely upon his strong family life.

“My older brothers Vince and Ed basically raised me after high school as my father passed away at my graduation party.”  He added: “You know I am not sure I have ever told anybody about this publicly. Family loyalty and bond were instilled in me from day one.”

He first met his wife Diane whilst working at Xerox and they got married in 1985. Three sons and one daughter followed in due course and he still remarks that one of his prime challenges is “keeping up with my family’s activities”.

“Diane is an amazing person,” he said, “who throws herself into everything she does from raising kids, to woodworking, gardening, volunteering, working out, etc… it can make you dizzy really.”

In his element on Thanksgiving Day

For hobbies and recreation he works out regularly including lifting weights. He admits to “enjoying bourbon and good Scotch and belonging to a fantastic cigar club in town”.

He is very fond of cooking – especially American country food. Indeed, he is planning an ambitious project today (Thanksgiving Day) when he and Diane have invited some 50 family guests round to join them in the meal and partake in the four turkeys and commensurate trimmings.

Rinaldi family

Family get together at Thanksgiving Day:

Back row:  Michael (son), Julia (Mike’s fiancé ), Will (Son), Madi (Daughter), Me, Diane. Front Row:  Dominic (son) and Alexis (Dom’s wife) oh and the family dog, Cooper!

What lesson does he take from his working life to date? “Well, do what makes you happy and fulfilled,” he stressed. “You have to have fun at work since you spend most of your waking hours at work with your colleagues. If it is not fun, time ticks away slowly but surely – and you wake up a decade or three later wondering what the hell happened. Your family and friends will know when you are not happy and doubting.”

He smiled: “Life is short and tomorrow is not guaranteed! Obviously it’s also important to not take risks that put you and your family in jeopardy. But, there is more to life out there! As someone smarter than I said centuries ago, ‘Seize the Day’.”