Michael Friedman is vice president of Gerber Finance Inc. and is in charge of market development and account management responsibilities for the New England region.
He has 15 years of executive experience, including former positions as president of Monarch Industries, Inc. and president and CEO of Paramount Restaurant Supply Corp.
He is a member of the corporation of Johnson and Wales University, on the board of Grow Smart RI and a member of the Young Presidents Organization.
Friedman has a bachelor‘s degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a dual concentration in accounting and entrepreneurial management.
PBN: With your recent appointment to lead the New England office in Providence for Gerber Finance, what are your initial priorities?
FRIEDMAN: My initial priority is to engage the strong New England entrepreneurial community in a discussion about the many avenues for financing growth for their businesses. What makes our economy so dynamic is the wide assortment and age of the businesses that drive our region. Many of these business owners, young and old, have relied on the traditional banking system for their working capital needs, but there are alternatives that need to be explored. While the SBA has been instrumental throughout the last decade in providing financing to firms that otherwise would not qualify for commercial bank loans, there are many non-bank lenders which have tools and resources to deploy.
PBN: What factors led Gerber Finance to open a Providence office? Does your firm see any sort of a niche or specialized market here for your services?
FRIEDMAN: The firm saw tremendous potential in one of the deepest and oldest economies in our country. There are so many industries that thrive in New England that Gerber, as a non-bank lender, could support. Many face difficulties raising money in a difficult economic environment. We are leaders in food service, food processing and seafood harvesting. Entrepreneurs in these market segments can substantially grow their businesses with the proper lines of credit to expand their product lines and fund new accounts. Other examples of businesses that might benefit from our expertise are toys, medical devices, jewelry, textiles and business services. Each has nuances which can make traditional lenders wary of loaning to them. Managed properly, with some creativity, we believe we can help them lead a new economic revolution in New England.
PBN: Rhode Island is a very competitive market for financial services. How do you think you’ll rise above the crowd to capture clients and grow your business?
FRIEDMAN: We don’t compete with the banks – we partner with them. Gerber works to provide credit products to their customers that banks may not be able to offer. When a business banker has a client who needs working capital, but they can’t get it through their internal underwriting, we present an outside ally that can provide that one facet of their financial needs. The balance of their cash management, payroll and insurance needs remain with their trusted bank. Our goals are that a Gerber client can grow their business, invest in it and focus on building their balance sheet such that in a few years, they will be “bankable” and have their choice of lenders. At that point, their local bank is often their first choice to work with.
PBN: You’ve had experience in a variety of businesses, including as CEO of a restaurant supply company and as president of a company that manufactures architectural millwork. How did you decide to switch to the financial services industry?
FRIEDMAN: First and foremost, I believe the core nature of business is good. Businesses have the opportunity to allow someone to fulfill a dream, to rise from poverty to wealth and to employ members of the community and give meaning and purpose to their lives. While at Paramount Restaurant Supply, I had a terrific experience working with Gerald Joseph, the CEO of Gerber Finance. When the time came for me to look for a new role professionally, he was very generous in offering me a dream job that makes the most of my industry experience, education and seemingly unquenchable thirst for learning about what makes business tick. At Geber, I have the opportunity to meet with the owners of exciting new businesses, with those in third-generation family businesses and all types in-between. Yet this is, at its core, a very entrepreneurial experience, launching a financial service brand in the home of the industrial revolution. I am very excited by the potential and work to be done to realize our vision.
PBN: What do you envision for your Providence office in one year? Two years? Five years?
FRIEDMAN: I hope that we are able to add one or two people in the next year or two to do underwriting and account management activities. But the results are not measured in people hired –results are measured in people touched. We want to make sure that we make business owners aware of the Gerber Finance name, the type of solutions we provide and the success stories the firm has accomplished to give them a glimpse into what they could do for the future of their businesses. We are reaching out through a network of professionals, advisors and bankers to spread the word and offer our assistance in solving their working capital needs, so they can focus on growing their business into what they dream it can be.