Philly boss tapped as CEO of $43 billion multinational

De Lage Landen, a Dutch-based, $43-billion-asset business lender with corporate clients in 36 countries, has named Wayne-based senior executive William F. Stephenson as its global chief executive and executive-board chairman. His promotion, the first of a non-Dutch executive to the post, has been approved by the Dutch central bank. 

Stephenson has worked at De Lage Landen and its predecessors since 1987. The U.S. equipment business based in Wayne was purchased by Rabobank, the Dutch farmers' bank, in 1999 from Tokai, the Japanese bank, and was previously a locally-based firm known as Masterlease. Stephenson is a graduate of Florida State University and Harvard Business School. 

De Lage Landen employs 5,500 (includes 1,300 in the U.S., corrected). Customers include Ricoh and Konica-Minolta copiers,a Philips Medica Capital partnership and many more. In an interview last year, De Lage Landen executive Carlo Van Kemmenade told me Stephenson had expanded the company's focus in the U.S. farm equipment, construction, healthcare, office machines, and transportation equipment lines.

Stephenson said he had recruited people from each of those industries, "so that when we sit across the desk from a doctor or a computer company or a construction company, it's with our people who understand that business because they came from it." Stephenson said that depth of local knowledge helped the company avoid bad loans and work efficiently with companies temporarily set back by the 2008 recession. 

For example, when truck-building companies came under pressure in 2008, De Lage Landen already "knew which of their customers would not make it," and suggested an extended grace period for those more likely to survive the crunch, Stephenson said. "Taking back the equipment just then would have put them out of business," he added.

It wasn't a question of being easy on the customers -- it was a question of knowing which customers would benefit from forebearance in the short run so De Lage Landen could get paid in the end. "We've been collecting data on our customers' customers for 30 years. We provide them with marketing data on the industries they're financing, customers' payment history and behavior," Stephenson added. That gives clients reason to seek De Lage Landen financing beyond purely financial terms. 

"You're going to see a massive shift globally in fiancing," Stephenson added. "No longer do you just have a tractor" as a loan subject or loan collateral. "That tractor has software. It works the grid based on the crops. The asset is no longer a phone system; half is in the software, the (bandwidth), the service, the support." How does one lend, for example, with software as collateral? "The underwriting is essential." For example, can the software's owner cut off its use by a borrower who isn't making payments?

De Lage Landen has lately spread to China, India and Turkey, among other new markets where Western manufacturers are seeking customers.