The famous Russell Crowe movie about an ancient Roman Gladiator battling stronger and better armed opponents is what every BDO feels like in the field. Step into our ring for a moment: Learn how to build a network, land a client, compete against formidable competitors, sell a deal internally and make time for networking after a busy day. This is a tactile role, and we are asked to win constantly while given the same tools or weapons as all other entrants. The flag of your bank or non-bank only goes so far in the arena of competition. Sure, the brand matters, but there is a reason some Gladiators are better than others. To be excellent requires mastering necessary and disparate skills – part credit, part sales, part project manager and most importantly politician. A strong Gladiator is the face of his or her organization and a true brand in their own right. This is the heart of being a Gladiator – you are in the arena on your own fighting to win.
Let’s face it, as BDOs we are all told our platform or brand is the best and then sent into battle with and against each other. Like all other competitive activities, most folks see the end result, not the process or the nuances. The hours are long, the stress is high and things change on a dime. If anyone wants to be a Gladiator, then follow one of us around for a week and see whether you are up for the challenge. Let’s start here: When everyone else goes home at night we go to a networking event or find ourselves on the road. While everyone else is off on weekends we are taking calls and working on a proposal. It literally never stops as we are the engine that needs to keep running so the pipeline stays full. We are also always the first to be sacrificed in any downsizing. No other role deals with the quotas or conflicting message of being asked to book the perfect deal with no risk, constantly. While everyone else tells us how to fight, we actually have to step into the arena and know how to win a deal. It’s easier to be a spectator than in the actual arena getting bruised.
Let’s talk about the arena for a moment. 100+ days a year in a hotel, competing in multiple arenas across many markets and managing meaningful internal resources. While the Gladiators might change from city-to-city, the arena typically stays the same. Each market is by and large the same – there are market makers and market takers – with the big institutions moving the markets with low-cost pricing whenever they really want to take more share. This just means you will never be the lowest priced or most aggressive in each deal bake-off. More often than not, you are competing against another Gladiator with better weapons. This is why our business is all about the Gladiator and less about the institution, although the institution does matter. No one ever said, “Bet on the horse, not the jockey.” Our brand as a Gladiator matters, the relationship with the client matters and knowing how to win matters. Step into the hardest arena in lending – lower middle-market asset and cash flow lending.
The best Gladiators put the pieces together over years, know their weapons, arena and competition. There is a reason certain BDOs dominate certain markets. The platform does matter and should not be undersold, however, knowing how to sell a platform and what can be approved is pure art in this day and age. Bank-ABL is still a hard credit product as it is still risk-rated and there is a reason a true ABL deal is often not being done by a bank. The margins have never been lower while competition never greater, so the the level of expertise needed to land these deals should not be underestimated. We are in an unforgiving market where advisors don’t forget being left at the altar. BDOs are often in a precarious situation fighting for a tough deal that will surely get done somewhere. This is why we call it the arena and why the good BDOs can navigate the internal and external forces to book assets and win.
What’s great about the arena of lending is that many of the Gladiators often socialize outside the arena but are fierce opponents inside. It’s the truest sign of respect and what makes our industry so great is that there is a real sign of admiration amongst the folks fighting the battles. This article is dedicated to all the BDOs in the arena who are the real Gladiators. This is our arena and what we live for. I look forward to seeing my fellow Gladiators in the Arena!
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