2019 Auto Finance Executive of the Year: Bill Jones
Bill Jones approaches every segment of his life with enthusiasm and zeal.
Professionally, Jones serves in multiple roles as the chief executive officer and president of Regional Acceptance Corp., as well as executive vice president and manager of BB&T Dealer Retail Services. Personally, Jones treasures the time he spends with his wife and adult children along with enjoying his passions for surfing, basketball and music.
While his professional career spans three decades and his time riding oceans waves and dribbling a ball is even longer, Jones singled out a moment while studying at East Carolina University as influencing him the most and setting him on a path toward success throughout his life.
“There are a lot of things in my professional career that I could point to that I would say that were significant points of my life that drove the person that I am today. But if I’m really honest, the single most significant event in my life really happened when I was a sophomore in college. It was a commitment to my faith, and committed my life to Christ,” Jones said during a face-to-face interview from his office in North Carolina.
“That single decision, honestly, really drove it. It changed my value system. It changed sort of how I saw the world, and it changed how I saw people. It changed my motivation in terms of how I react with people and how I handle myself within the context of the world. And so if I’m really honest, it changed my identity as a human being quite honestly,” he continued.
“In terms of my professional career, I’ve had some mentors early in my life who were gracious enough and patient enough to help me understand some really great things,” Jones went on to say. “One was around values, having a strong value system. I also had some really strong mentors early in my career who helped me understand the concept of owning something, taking personal responsibility, not thinking of myself within the context of a large corporation but thinking of myself within the context of a set of responsibilities and owning that. That was critical for my professional development.”
Those decisions and experiences forged the way for Jones to be successful on multiple fronts, garnering industry-wide attention, too. Jones is this year’s selection as the Auto Finance Executive of the Year, sponsored by Black Book. Jones joins previous winners that include:
— Andrew Stuart, TD Auto Finance
— Tommy Moore Jr., First Investors Financial Services
— Ozzie Ramos, National Auto Lenders
— Dan Ulatowski, Credit Acceptance
— Bill Jensen, Chase Auto Finance
— Ian Anderson, Westlake Financial Services
“Black Book is honored once again this year to recognize an industry leader with our Auto Finance Executive of the Year Award,” Black Book executive vice president of revenue Jared Kalfus said.
“Bill Jones exemplifies all of the characteristics of the type of leader this award has come to recognize, including innovation, integrity and passion. In addition, his work outside of the industry, including his volunteer work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and YoungLife, as well as his work within the industry serving on the board of directors for the National Automotive Finance Association for many years and his current work on the board of the auto advisory board for the American Financial Services Association, make him a great asset to everyone around him,” Kalfus went on to say.
All of those activities Kalfus mentioned also coincides with Jones’ assessment of the auto-finance industry. His career includes time 13 years with Wachovia Bank ahead of the past 20 years with his current employer that’s in the process of merging with SunTrust Bank to form Truist in an action expected to be finalized by the end of 2019. Throughout that span, Jones has been collaborating with clients and industry colleagues, triggering him to describe the elements of auto financing that have remained constant during his career and what components have changed most dramatically.
“Well, a lot has changed. But in terms of the things that have remained the same, we still have tens of thousands of dealers, and we still have an extremely fragmented auto-finance industry, which is a great backdrop of what I believe continues to be an extremely favorable, competitive environment for consumers,” Jones said. “You have tens of thousands of dealers on one side of the industry, and on the credit support side of the industry, you’ve got one of the most fragmented finance industries in existence. That’s a recipe for an extremely high level of competition, which means consumers are going to win. So fundamentally, that has not changed.
“Another thing that has remained relatively constant is that this business is still heavily influenced by relationships. The biggest players have some of the strongest capital positions and the most strength to invest in technology and those kinds of things yet, relationships continue to be the center point,” he continued.
And when Jones describes relationships, they also bring him to his belief that Regional Acceptance is more than just a finance company. The division is BB&T’s unit that caters to individuals who have soft credit profiles.
“Our social mission at Regional Acceptance is fundamentally about helping our consumers by providing access to credit,” Jones said. “On average, consumers are driving around 15 miles to and from work every day. Not everybody lives in a densely populated metropolitan area where they can walk three blocks to work. So access to credit is critical to folks that may have had some credit challenges. Our social mission is to be there to provide access to credit in an honorable, respectable and transparent way to our consumers where we can.
“Fundamentally when I think about our consumers and their characteristics, they’re hard working, they’re honest, they’re determined, they’re trying to make a better life for themselves and their family. And they deserve, quite honestly, to be treated with an extremely high level of honor and respect. And they deserve to receive value in that relationship with their financial provider,” Jones continued. “What’s critical to me is to help educate and, in some cases, if somebody has been credit challenged, to help rehabilitate consumers so that they can borrow at lower interest rates and improve their situation in the future.”
Shaping the future for the customers of Regional Acceptance and BB&T passes through Jones’ mind, and so does having an impact on up-and-coming executives who might be just embarking on a career in auto financing. Jones mentioned four specific recommendations.
“I would say the most critical thing for a young person would be to step back and think about is this word that I mentioned earlier, about values. I would say it’s really important to have honesty and integrity at the foundation of your value system. My philosophy on life is honesty and integrity. Honesty and integrity lead to a high degree of trust. Trust is the basis of all human relationships. Without trust, you really don’t have a relationship. Cutting corners as it relates to honesty and integrity is outside of an individual’s rational self-interest. If you just look at it purely professionally, that’s the first thing I would say,” Jones said.
“The second thing I would say is seek to understand whatever it is you’re doing, particularly early in your career, and really at all points in your career. Seek to become an expert at what you’re doing. It doesn’t really matter how insignificant you think it may or may not be. Seek to understand it better than anybody else. As a result, perform better than anybody else in that role,” he continued.
“And third, own it,” Jones went on to say. “With this third key point, when you have an ownership mentality, you’re not going to be reactive. You’re going to be proactive. When you do, you’re going to be thinking about how to win, how to do well, how to how to handle a situation right. You’re not going to be an order taker; you’re going to own it. You’re not waiting for the next command. You say, ‘What do I need to do to be successful in this situation?’
“The last thing I would say is good communication,” Jones added. “I always say good communication is about 60% of your success. There are a lot of really smart people in the world who are brilliant, some of which are excellent communicators, and some of which are not. Communication is so critical, communicating things in diplomatic ways that build bridges as opposed to creating confrontational situations. I’ve seen it time and time again hurt people in their career development. Communication is absolutely critical. Building a sense of teamwork and mutual supportiveness is something that people need to think deeply about when they’re communicating.”
Jones closed this conversation by describing how gratifying is it to be honored by this industry for an accolade like the Auto Finance Executive of the Year Award presented by Black Book.
“It’s surreal, honestly, because as I stated earlier, this industry is extremely fragmented. There are a lot of great companies, with absolutely outstanding leaders, some of which I’m very, very good friends with and have a phenomenal amount of respect and admiration for, and quite honestly I look up to several of them,” Jones said. “So to be recognized in this way is surreal. It’s almost hard to believe quite honestly. I couldn’t be more honored and humbled. There are several handfuls of people in this industry that this kind of award could be laid before, and it would be a really good decision. So, I’m beyond honored.”