5 Minutes With Mignon Winston

By Eileen Wubbe

The Secured Lender sat with Mignon Winston, newly appointed director, underwriting of White Oak Commercial Finance. Here she discusses her career path, priorities in her new role, advice to young professionals and interests outside of work.

Tell us about your career background. How did you get your start in the ABL industry?
I started out as a credit trainee at Chemical Bank, one of J.P.Morgan Chase’s predecessors. I went through its training program to become a credit analyst, then an account officer in the bank’s middle-market lending group (cash-flow lending). Over time, I determined that I was especially interested in the credit side of the business and lobbied to be considered for a credit role within the bank. I felt that a credit position would involve exposure to a greater variety of transactions, and I liked the challenge of having to evaluate a transaction relatively quickly. I was promoted into a position that involved approving and structuring committed facilities in the bank’s middle-market lending group. After nine years at the bank, I left to pursue a position in underwriting in the factoring group of a commercial finance company. In 2003, I went to work for CIT’s ABL group and have been in ABL underwriting and portfolio management roles ever since. When I heard that White Oak Commercial Finance was looking to expand its ABL division to provide this type of financing to middle-market companies, I knew that there was a great opportunity for me to help grow this important piece of its business.

How have you seen ABL evolve from when you started out to now?
There are many more lenders in the ABL industry than when I started, of all sizes. The increased competition has led to compressed margins for lenders, making it harder to manage the risk/reward aspect of the business. Given these market conditions, it is increasingly important for lenders to offer more than just optimal terms, providing flexible and creative financing solutions in a timely manner is key.

What are your goals and priorities in your new role at White Oak Commercial Finance?
It’s a really exciting time at White Oak Commercial Finance. I have many goals. First, I want to ensure that we provide superior execution of new business transactions to ensure that referral sources think of White Oak Commercial Finance first for their next deal. I will also work with Gerard Hanabergh, managing director, underwriting, to develop best practices for the growing White Oak Commercial Finance’s ABL group. In addition, I love to mentor and plan to help develop our junior team members and educate them about underwriting, credit risk and our sector as whole. I also plan to continue to participate in the CFA’s Mentoring Program and teach its Underwriting Fundamentals course.

You recently attended the CFA’s first Women in Commercial Finance conference and our 40 Under 40 Awards in September in New York. What advice would you offer women in this industry and to young professionals?
It is critical to network as much as you can with your peers and higher-ups in the industry. In addition, I recommend that young women create an informal personal advisory board—people you can turn to for career advice or to bounce ideas off. People who will tell you the truth even if it hurts to hear it! Finally, create short- and long-term personal and career goals for yourself.

How has your involvement in CFA helped your career development?
Being involved with the CFA has enhanced my ability to network within the industry. The organization has helped me build strong business relationships and friendships within the sector. It has also enabled me to hone my training skills by teaching several modules of the Underwriting Fundamentals course.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My big passion is tennis, both playing and following professional tennis. I take lessons several times per month and play in several leagues.

The White Oak website mentions that your volunteer work includes alumni interviewing for Harvard University and tutoring high-school juniors to prepare them to take the SAT. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Harvard requires an alumni interview as part of its application requirements. For many years, I’ve interviewed high-school seniors every fall and early winter. It’s very inspiring, talking to people at that stage in their lives, where everything is in front of them.

Several years ago, I started tutoring high school juniors in underserved NYC communities to prepare them for the SAT. New York Cares, an umbrella volunteer organization, runs the program. It is a weekly commitment from the fall until the spring. Ostensibly, I tutor the students in math, reading comprehension and essay writing. But I also strive to teach them about citizenship, about things like voting, staying informed about current events, calling your congressperson to express your views and being an active citizen of this country.




Mignon Winston, Director, Underwriting, White Oak Commercial Finance