Life is never predictable, and for Michael Williams, vice president of consumer lending at American First Credit Union, his career path changed when he picked up a temp agency job.
Williams began his career in the auto industry working a second job as a temporary employee at a car dealership — and he fell in love with the industry, he told Auto Finance News.
He started in 1995 as an assistant to the office manager at Stevens Creek Toyota in San Jose, Calif., while he was a defensive back for the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, Williams said. Williams’ mother called him during the offseason and told him he needed to keep his mind sharp and pick up another job outside of football. She suggested a temp agency, and he was placed at the dealership.
“My mother said, ‘You’re too smart, you need to keep your mind active. You’re too smart to just sit around and wait for [football]. Football is what you do, not who you are,’” Williams said. At the dealership, he progressed to sales during his first year and began to learn the sales and finance sides of the business.
During his time at the dealership, he met people from a finance group who taught him vehicle finance, he said, noting he chose to learn it even though it was outside of his college degree.
“I was interested in it, so I learned it, but it didn’t fit with my degree,” Williams said. “I’m supposed to be a teacher, I’m supposed to be teaching history and education. I liked it so much that once I started learning the banking programs, I said, ‘This could be a good living.’”
Williams has spent more than 25 years in the auto industry across sales and lending, and his passion for the industry continues to be driven by the people he serves.
“The credit union space is perfect for me because you get to see people and their complete phases,” he said. “You’ll see them at the beginning stages as a first-time buyer, college graduate, high school graduate, just getting into the industry.”
AFN spoke with Williams about his career, his approach to leadership and his thoughts on trends in the auto finance industry. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
Auto Finance News: What are your company’s goals in about 10 words or less?
Michael Williams: Our slogan is “Your dream. Our pursuit. Since 1952,” but in 10 words or less … offering innovative loans, accounts and exceptional service to our community.
AFN: What do you think is the most underrated lending trend?
MW: Shifts toward digital transformation taking place in consumer lending and moving toward an even more seamless process using data analytics. Companies like Flinks and Point Predictive are leveraging data analytics to aid with income verification, applicant ID and fraud alerts to help speed up the underwriting and funding process exponentially, thus giving the customer a more expedited and expedient application and funding process.
AFN: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice ever received?
MW: You must genuinely care about and invest in the teams you lead. You can’t just lead them, but you must inspire them to be the best version of themselves through hard work and leading by example.
AFN: Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
MW: My mother. She is the wisest, smartest person I know. She has been advising me through challenging situations from birth. I don’t mean advising me by being overbearing, but she has helped me to learn from missteps and how to reason, decide and execute a plan of action. She helped me develop tools as a child, teenager and adult that I still use today. We still chat once or twice a week about work.
AFN: What’s something your employees would be surprised to learn about you?
MW: I played two years in the NFL; one year with the Chargers — formerly of San Diego, and now Los Angeles — and one year with the San Francisco 49ers. I learned a lot of my team-building skills from my college, UCLA, and professional football career.
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