Magazine article Business Credit

Meet Your NACM Mentor of the Year: Larry O'Brien, CCE, ICCE

Magazine article Business Credit

Meet Your NACM Mentor of the Year: Larry O'Brien, CCE, ICCE

Article excerpt

Credit Manager As Salesman to Higher Ups

"That's not in my job description as a credit manager."

Is that a line you plan to use anytime soon for a request slightly out of the usual credit function (illegal and unethical requests aside, of course) in the changing landscape of business in the United States and other developed economies? Good luck with that. If you aren't shown the door at some time in the future--and there are plenty of good credit people still looking for work post-recession--you'll at the very least run a high risk of being marginalized in how upper-level decision makers at the company think of your worth and opinion. It is now the job of today's credit manager to advance the credit function and profession beyond the traditional boundaries, argued Larry O'Brien, CCE, ICCE, director of corporate credit of Potash Corp. And he would be a credible source since he was chosen as the 2012 NACM Mentor of the Year.

O'Brien, whose credit career began as an agricultural loan officer in 1983, turned a lot of heads this year at conferences run both by FCIB and NACM with his talk of advancing the role of credit. He's been arguing the critical importance of credit managers working their way into front-of-mind topics considered by upper management, especially the chief financial officer (CFO). This is particularly the case if negative news is on the way. Remember: NOBODY in business likes surprises of the negative variety.

"If something happens with a company decision and it's negative, you don't want it to come back to the credit department as 'you were asleep at the switch," said O'Brien, a 1992 graduate of NACM's Graduate School of Credit and Financial Management (GSCFM) at Dartmouth College. He takes it upon himself to deliver negative news, especially if it's about a customer generating a lot of the sales. "It's not just an 'I don't like this customer' thing, it's more like 'this is what's happening," he said. "It often helps to lay it all out and make sure they know what's going on. They're often so busy doing their own, very busy jobs, they might not know the little problems starting to boil up with our customers."

O'Brien has been advising other credit professionals of the increased importance of having support and buy-in throughout the company on credit policies. He mentors and encourages them to get the proper educational tools to make a strong analysis the first time they see something though O'Brien admitted that many do not have the ear of the CFO or other top managers. You might need to start small and constantly be looking for ways to get noticed for the right reason (delivering value).

"You've got to get your face in front of management," said O'Brien, who currently serves on the NACM/Chicago-Midwest Board of Directors and its business staffing and education committees. "Maybe you think a report is important for them to know about; send it on an unsolicited basis with a short narrative. Keep sending these unless you get a message 'why do you keep sending me this junk?' Or, say there is an issue with a big customer that, for whatever reason, you're brought in for your opinion. Once you have that opportunity to sit with the senior executives, it gives you a chance to show what you've got. Most senior executives are intelligent, logical people. If you can explain your message in a concise and easy-to-understand manner, they're probably going to listen. …

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