NEW ON THE SCENE 

PAY IT FORWARD: 

LEWIS LOOKS TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF LENDERS  

BY AMANDA KOPROWSKI 

Lewis, Donald - Eastern Bank - Jan 2019.jpg

DONALD LEWIS 
SVP/Head, Asset-Based Lending, Eastern Bank 

Donald Lewis took over as head of Eastern Bank’s Asset-Based Lending Division this past October after a quarter-century career at Citizens Bank. When Eastern offered the possibility of leading a business, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

When Donald Lewis, Eastern Bank’s new senior vice president and head of Asset-Based Lending, graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1991, he didn’t anticipate the path his career would take. 

“I was not focused on asset-based lending when I got out of college,” says Lewis. “I had envisioned myself as more of an investment banker, not an ABL lender.” 

But the early 1990s were not a great time for first-time job prospects. A relatively mild recession was followed by a sluggish, jobless recovery, leaving many recent college grads on the outside of the working world looking in. Despite the dreary prospects, Lewis found he had an unexpected inside track. 

“My mother worked for U.S. Trust, the bank where I started,” says Lewis. “She facilitated an interview for a field examiner job, opening the door for me.” 

Though Lewis had been looking south to the New York-based finance sector, he found unexpected enjoyment in this new position based out of his hometown of Boston. 

“It was a fantastic way to start working,” says Lewis. “I was visiting different companies every week, looking at how they operate, meeting different management teams, and I really enjoyed it.” 

The work gave Lewis a taste of what the ABL industry could offer. “A field examiner is really the back bone of asset-based lending,” he says. “It’s analyzing collateral, making sure the collateral is there, and verifying the figures the client is sending into the bank. All skills that are integral to understanding asset-based lending.” 

A DEEPENING APPRECIATION FOR ABL 

Over the next few years, Lewis would wind his way up the internal corporate ranks, working in underwriting, portfolio management and relationship management before he started managing his own teams. But Lewis says his success was often propelled forward by a series of well-regarded mentors, including Paul Flynn, who was the then-head of ABL at U.S. Trust. 

“Paul was my mentor and instrumental in my growth and development in learning the asset-based lending business,” Lewis recalls. “He took me under his wing. And each time when I was ready to move up, I got the professional growth that I needed.” 

After U.S. Trust was acquired by Citizens Bank in 2000, Lewis’ career path in management continued, as he would become Citizens’ regional head of portfolio and underwriting. There, again, he benefited from the wisdom of industry veterans, finding himself working under the supervision of Dan Landers, who had just established Citizens’ ABL business when the U.S. Trust acquisition went through. And Lewis’ efforts to learn didn’t stop, even as he gained more experience. 

“Most recently, in the last 10 years, I was working under Chris Carmosino at Citizens,” says Lewis. “And Chris was another wonderful mentor who helped me develop a strong understanding of debt capital markets, [as well as] a holistic appreciation for the ABL space. I’ve been fortunate to have three distinguished mentors in my career.” 

AN ENTREPRENEURIAL AND COMMUNITY-FOCUSED PATH 

After spending 27 years with the same contiguous organization, moving to Eastern Bank was a bold move, but one Lewis felt ready to take. 

“What was really attractive at Eastern Bank was the opportunity to manage a business and have full P&L responsibility,” says Lewis. “To be able to come in, take leadership of a nice business and try to grow it and help develop emerging talent, that was really attractive to me.” 

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At Eastern, Lewis reports to the head of commercial banking at a time when the overall division and ABL are both growing. Eastern’s ABL division began five years ago in 2014 and has grown commitments and loan outstandings each year. The portfolio consists of general corporate clients operating primarily within the manufacturing, distribution and service sectors. This development places Lewis in a good position to follow through on his goals. 

Watching the ABL field change from a niche financial offering to a large lending sector with billions of dollars in deal volume over the course of his career gives Lewis the benefit of a historical perspective, in addition to his varied financial background. His early career days as a field examiner visiting customers also helped him develop an appreciation for each client’s business and the advantage of working across sectors, which is particularly important at Eastern, a community bank that recognizes it can only thrive when the customers, colleagues and communities it serves thrive as well. 

“The ABL product is so much more mainstream now than it was back in the 90s,” he says. “And it’s really not limited or focused on any one particular industry.” 

Looking outward is, in fact, one of the keys to Lewis’ plans for Eastern, as he advocates for paying more attention to the client rather than the client’s industry. “You have to be effective in working across business lines so you can deliver the whole bank to your clients. ABL is certainly an important part of a company’s financing, but you really want to deliver the whole suite of products the bank has.” 

Eastern’s history as a mutual bank drives a culture rooted in community service and purpose to do good things to help people prosper, and its commercial banking team takes great pride in offering sound advice and innovative solutions. This has led to industry-leading retention rates and significant growth in its loan portfolio. 

Lewis looks forward to furthering these philosophies, with a focus on taking a collaborative rather than hierarchical approach. 

“It really takes a team to drive a successful business,” says Lewis. “It’s not just one person; it’s building a team. It’s everybody driving, rolling in the same direction and providing them the opportunity for growth and development. You need to take advantage of coaching opportunities, provide feedback and have them think through issues and come to conclusions on their own.” 

PAYING IT FORWARD 

Lewis returns to this last point of guidance often, speaking fondly of his own mentors and how he wants to pay their lessons forward. 

“I really can’t stress enough the benefit I had from having wonderful mentors,” he says. “I’ve mentored and developed people over my career, and I really enjoy it, and I want to continue that at Eastern.” 

The idea of developing the next generation of asset-based lending leadership was part of the reason for his move to Eastern, and it’s part and parcel to how sees himself growing a successful business, taking his own interest in professional development and using it to lift up those working with him. 

“Eastern has a solid, customer-focused ABL platform that we can certainly leverage and further grow while still in its early years,” says Lewis. “That is really attractive to me, and that’s what I’m looking forward to, the focus on expanding even further a community-oriented ABL group. And part of that is developing the newer talent we have here in the business, adding to our talent pool over time and creating something impactful for our customers and communities together as a team.”