Out on top

Experience is an advantage in any industry, and Richard Korda, managing director at Zenith Finance, has it in spades.

He began in the finance industry in 1993 and to date has more than 4500 commercial finance transactions under his belt: “Anything from small equipment finance deals to a larger commercial property finance deal,” he reveals.

Korda’s impressive resume commenced while completing a commerce degree at the University of Wollongong. He started working in the money market and commercial lending where he remained for three years, before spending a year in real estate and then embarking on a trip around the globe. On his return, he decided to enter the world of finance and began working for a finance broker.

But six years later, he became disillusioned with being a commission-only employee. “I was only as good as the deals I was doing and there wasn’t that much support from a marketing [point of view],” he says. “I basically had to do it all myself. So I figured, ‘Well, look, what’s the point of doing it for them when they weren’t really supporting me? I might as well do it myself and build up my own name and own brand’.”

And so Zenith Finance was born in February 2000. Korda started alone and over the years has built the business up to six staff.

He had originally gravitated towards finance because he saw it as “a ticket to a good lifestyle”, but he wasn’t sure which part of banking and finance to pursue.

“I saw it as something that certainly had longevity,” he says. “It was around for a long time before and it was going to be around for a long time going forward. I was always pretty good with numbers and figures and doing a commerce degree set me up for this type of industry.”

Filling a niche

Zenith Finance began as equipment financiers for small- to medium-size businesses only. About 80 per cent of the business remains so today, providing a range of equipment finance facilities for general machinery, earthmoving equipment, forklifts, trucks and other vehicles, plus technology equipment and more.

Korda says he started in this area because it presented him with the most opportunities in the market. “What makes us unique is that we specialise in equipment finance [as well as] the self-employed market,” he says. “That is our target mark so we’ve become experts on self-employed.”

But when his equipment finance clients began asking if Zenith could arrange other types of finance for investment properties and homes, Korda realised there was enough demand for the business to diversify.

“I used to always say no. Then it got to a point where [I thought], ‘Hey, look, there’s obviously an opportunity here to first of all help our clients’,” he says. “Part of the reason for doing it too was to retain clients because in a banking or finance type industry, you need to be able to offer a range of products to clients. Otherwise the client might end up going somewhere else.”

Zenith today offers property finance, mortgage loans, high loan to value ratio (LVR) and home loans.

Korda realises the importance of understanding his clients’ needs, finding the product that fits and will most benefit their business. Today, 90 per cent of Zenith’s business is through referrals and repeat business.

“Before we do any business with anybody, we want to understand exactly what type of business they do, how their business operates, and to see if our products will actually suit them.”

Survival tips

Recent issues in the property market have affected the bottom line of the business, Korda says, but as Zenith is mostly equipment finance, they are still growing. He stresses the importance of going the extra mile to survive the turmoil.

“You just have to dig a bit deeper, look a bit harder and work a bit harder to actually find more deals to cover the hole that has been put there from the general market conditions.”

A key lesson Korda has learnt over the years is that in order to offer the best advice to clients, it’s important to retain a strong understanding of the area in which the business operates. He believes it’s important to realise that “you can’t be an expert for everyone”.

“Work out who you’re going to serve the best and then concentrate on helping those people,” he says. “That way if you do a great job for someone, they’re going to refer people or keep on coming back to you.”

Knowledge of how the banks function is also integral to getting clients the best assistance, according to Korda. Small businesses can change their own system quickly to be in-line with the bank, so it’s important to be flexible.

Building a relationship with the business development manager (BDM) is essential, as is a thorough understanding of the products on offer, Korda advises. If there is a complex deal, it’s important to know whether a specific product at a particular bank will work. If unsure, speak with the BDM.

Zenith also operates independent of the banks.

“It’s important to differentiate ourselves, to show people that we have choice as well; to show that we don’t just offer one option,” he says.

With clients that require millions of dollars in lines of credit, Korda says Zenith must have a range of banks they can deal with so if one is bank unable to complete a deal, they can take it to another.

“It spreads the risk for the banks, and the client gets more opportunity to get money to grow their business,” he says.

Growth and progress

Korda says his vision for Zenith Finance is “to be the SMEs’ first choice for business finance solutions”.

In order to help the business grow further, Zenith appointed a business coach in July 2007. Korda described his business as “stagnant” and in need a breath of fresh air.

“I was basically head down, trying to do deals and making this business work,” he says. “But I didn’t really know what I was doing it for, or [whether I was] building something which I could possibly sell down the track.”

“Before the coaching, Zenith was a successful business, however, it was very Richard-dependant,” says business coach Lesley Ann Grimoldby. “Any small business owner knows that when the business is dependant on them, it’s going to lead to very high stress levels.”

“[Business growth] was stagnant because it was so attached to him,” she adds.

Grimoldby suggests that introducing systems was a way of freeing Korda. It allowed Korda to run the business rather than letting the business run him. Korda says systems has made running the business more efficient – he introduced systems on everything from greeting customers as they walk through the door to the process of conducting a deal with a client.

Korda is on the way to seeing his vision for the business come to fruition. Perhaps the name reflects the vision. “Zenith really means the top or the pinnacle.” 

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