Vision Financial Group, Inc. (VFG) is the realization of the “vision” that Fred Summers created. So, our story begins with Fred.
Fred’s late brother, Larry Summers (also a successful equipment leasing entrepreneur in his own right), used to describe Fred as “the most enthusiastic, optimistic and positive person that I’ve ever met.” Most people who’ve spent any time with Fred would agree with Larry’s assessment. They’d also agree that Fred’s work ethic and moxie are second to none.
Fred was born in 1947 in the hills of eastern Tennessee in a small town called Oakdale. Larry Summers (“Slick”), Fred’s father, worked long hours on the railroad. Robbie Lee Summers, his mother, cared for the five children and worked various jobs outside the home as was necessary to help support the family.
The family moved to Hamilton, OH in 1953 when Slick found opportunity with the B&O Railroad. Slick and Robbie came from blue collar backgrounds. “College” and vacations were not in their vocabulary. “Work” was. Slick’s advice to the boys while they were growing up was simple, “Work hard and always do what you say you will do.”
Soon after high school graduation in 1965, Fred followed his eldest brother Larry to Richmond, VA where Fred took a job as a Consumer Loan Officer with American Finance.
Part one of his loan officer training was collecting debts. Amongst other things, he learned that chasing bad consumer loans wasn’t very much fun and was also potentially hazardous to one’s health. (Back in those days it wasn’t uncommon to be met with the wrong end of a gun when trying to collect a legitimate debt.) He survived his training, learned to value the importance of smart credit decisions in the process, and became a successful loan officer.
Fred married Babs, his high school sweetheart, in 1966. The couple’s next stops included stints with General Electric Consumer Finance in Indianapolis, IN; Cincinnati, OH; Columbus, OH and then back to greater Cincinnati, OH. During this time, he worked his way up from Branch Manager to District Manager and was eventually running the whole state of OH. He could only move up with GE.
In 1978, GE offered Fred a big promotion in its consumer finance division. This offer required Fred to move his family (which by now included his wife and three young children) to GE’s headquarters in Stamford, CT. He and Babs weren’t ready to leave southern OH, so Fred searched and found an opportunity instead with GE’s Commercial Equipment Finance division, GE Capital. (This was Fred’s first foray into the world of equipment leasing.)
From GE Fred went to Banc Boston Leasing (while still domiciled in Cincinnati, OH). In 1988, Fred started getting recruited hard by Joy Finance, the new finance arm of Joy Mining, at the urging of one of Fred’s customers (who was now affiliated with Joy). This customer recognized through previous dealings that Fred would bring tremendous value to Joy’s new financing group. Fred accepted the position and Fred & Babs agreed to transfer the family up to Pittsburgh, PA.
One of the first things Fred had to do at Joy Finance was to start building a team. A young woman, fresh out of Duff’s Business Institute, came in to interview for a job as Fred’s executive assistant. (That young woman has remained by Fred’s side to this day. Kimberly Smith is VFG’s CFO & CAO – and she has been absolutely instrumental in helping VFG become what it is today.)
Fred and Kim helped grow the Joy Finance portfolio to over $80MM in the span of less than a year. Unfortunately, the company’s then leader and Fred didn’t see eye to eye on a key issue. Fred left the firm in 1989 and Kim Smith followed. From Joy Finance, Fred & Kim accepted positions with Capital Associates International, a lessor which was based in Lakewood, CO.
As what has proven to be customary throughout Fred’s career, he was a star performer with CAI. Everything was going great up until 1990, when it became apparent that CAI had made some strategic business mistakes. Their Achilles heel proved to be their inability to accurately predict high technology future residual values. Since the portfolio was over concentrated with large computer systems, the firm started hemorrhaging.
CAI began laying off much of the sales team in effort to cut costs. Due to Fred’s “star performer” status, he was retained with promises of a positive turn-around, more commission, etc. CAI couldn’t stop the bleeding and before-too-long they owed Fred over $34,000 in unpaid expense reimbursement and past due commissions.
Fred learned that a CAI bankruptcy filing was imminent. He realized that decisive and quick action was required if he hoped to “turn lemons into lemonade.” He got on the phone with CAI’s attorney and quickly negotiated a settlement which consisted of partial cash payment from CAI, rent reduction to support him taking over the firm’s downtown Pittsburgh office, and an ownership transfer of all the office equipment to Fred’s soon-to-be-launched firm.
On January 9, 1991 Vision Financial Group, Inc. was officially formed in Pittsburgh, PA with two employees: Frederick S. Summers and Kimberly S. Smith. The firm was founded based on three business principles:
- Always do what you say you will do.
- Out respond the competition.
- Always be competitive.
Fred learned a long time ago that people are a company’s greatest asset. VFG has built a tremendous team which we are very proud of. Today VFG employs 23 people. Many have over 15 years with the company. We hold our team in high regard and we are grateful for the wide variety of experiences and skills each member brings to the table.
Like most “families,” the VFG family has a lot of different individual personalities and perspectives in our firm. What we have in common, though, is a desire to serve and a willingness to work hard. Our varied backgrounds and experience have prepared and positioned us extremely well to both understand and to meet the varying needs of our diverse customer base.
Our employees have a vested interest in the success of our customers because VFG’s success depends on the ability of our customers to meet their obligations. (It’s one of the many reasons we make a concerted attempt to refer business to our customers and vendor partners and help them any way we can.)
We thank you, for taking the time to learn more about our company and we enthusiastically invite you to contact us to discuss how we may be of service.