At Consumer Portfolio Services (CPS), Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Officer Mike Lavin centers his leadership approach around humility and providing a platform where team members’ voices can be heard.
Lavin’ boasts a storied resume. He began his career at a law firm and practiced for seven years prior to joining CPS as vice president of legal before being promoted to senior vice president and general counsel in 2001. He later took on the positions of executive vice president and chief legal officer in March 2014 before adding chief operating officer to his accolades in 2019.
Today, Lavin still has his hand in nearly every aspect of the business.
“Every day is different, every day is a challenge,” Lavin told Auto Finance News. “I could be doing sales one day, credit another day, IT another day, and jump in on a big legal case the day after that. It’s a pretty exciting job.”
The Irvine, Calif.-based lender tightened credit in the third quarter as originations tallied $468.2 million, an increase of 43.3% year over year but a 14.6% sequential decline. The lender also raised interest rates more than 200 points on the heels of the Federal Reserve’s increases. CPS logged record originations of $548.1 million during the second quarter.
Auto Finance News spoke with Lavin about his career, his approach to leadership and the auto finance industry. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
Auto Finance News: What are Consumer Portfolio Services’ goals in about 10 words or less?
Mike Lavin: Grow the company, treat our customers well and provide a great work environment for employees.
AFN: What do you think is the most underrated lending trend?
ML: The most underrated lending trend is that everything is still built on relationships. It’s great to have the new and exciting technology to leverage efficiency. It’s great that algorithms are being used for credit-decisioning and collecting debt. But at the end of the day, relationships still matter.
Those relationships start with the sales reps and the dealers building that trust to send us the application. It then extends to the collectors, and can they build relationships with the customers, and they build a rapport with that customer, so they believe when we explain the situation and trust us to make the payment on their debt.
You also have to have relationships with your vendors to get the right service from them. You have to have the right relationships with your Wall Street partners in order to get the best terms and conditions. So those relationships extend across nearly every spectrum of your business.
AFN: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice ever received?
ML: Be a great listener and be humble. I think a lot of people in leadership tend to believe their own hype and aren’t open to other people’s suggestions and ideas. I think that if you canvas your management team, canvas your employees, listen to what they have to say and extract the things that will help you meet your company goals, it will make the company better. It also goes to empowering the employees and giving them a bigger sense of morale to do the job day in and day out when they feel like they have been heard.
You can’t think of yourself above anybody else, regardless of your title or your earnings. Everybody is sort of rowing the ship in the same direction, and people will get off the boat if they think you believe yourself to be better than they are.
AFN: Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
ML: My wife; she’s been with me from the start. She’s been with me from law school, through the big firm, through transitioning to CPS. We’ve been through two recessions and COVID at CPS. We nearly shut the doors. The stock has been at $14 [and] it’s been at $1.25. There’s corporate politics, there’s the ebb and flows of the day-in and day-out of the business, and through it all, she’s been there.
AFN: What’s something your employees would be surprised to learn about you?
ML: Employees would be surprised to learn I love to read, research and write, and I especially love studying the world wars and history. A lot of times during the week I’ll stay up late at night and watch documentaries on ancient battles, ancient civilizations, World War I, World War II and the Cold War. I love everything about history and what we can learn from it.