Ep 18: Deb Swink: Selling, Testifying, and Transforming the Industry

The Diva Tech Talk team is excited to share our interview with Deb Swink, Vice President for CSI Leasing, an equipment leasing corporation with 70 offices worldwide, and leasing operations in 36 countries. Deb has had a long and successful career in the male-dominated field of information technology leasing.

Deb’s career started in accounting as part of the accounting and marketing department at another technology leasing company. The  IT leasing field got its start with a 1950’s consent agreement from IBM and the Department of Justice. IBM had a monopoly on the market. But this ruling forced the tech giant to open up its technology to allow for buying, selling and leasing.

The market further opened up in the 1970’s, and companies like CMI and CSI were able to get their start. At that time, CMI was about 40 people and grew to 400 before Deb left for her next opportunity. Cash flow was very tight in their rapidly growing company. One day a manager called her up to thank her for handling the flow of requests well.

“You really handle the cash flow issue very elegantly. We have a situation where we’d like to do business with the federal government,” he said. “We’d like to tag someone to do that. We think you’d do a great job.”  At first, Deb hesitated, but her colleagues believed in her and inspired her to accept the role. She frequently traveled to Washington DC, and little by little she saw successes blossom.

Deb left, for a moment, to have a son in the late 1980’s. When she returned to work she asked if she could work a 4 day work week, but was denied that flexibility. So when an offer came that better fit her needs from National Computer, she took it. That company was later bought by CSI, where she still works today.

What helped this industry boom? Deb said it was pure economics. Leasing was very important. Customers couldn’t afford the cost of a mainframe system in the 80’s that might cost  upwards of $1.5 million dollars. The memory and capabilities of those systems are almost in a flash drive today.

“I feel fortunate to have seen the ebb and flow of technology,” she said.

By the mid 80’s, the market was established and Deb was making bids and closing sales for CSI with the federal government. However, she noticed bids started to get turned down asking for brand new technologies that weren’t necessarily needed. Many businesses, it turned out, were frustrated with this issue. When she filed a complaint, a protest started, and Deb found herself becoming the face of a movement.

At eight months pregnant with their second child, she had to go to Washington DC to testify.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking. But we won. It was a landslide victory that opened it up for more companies to participate in the marketplace,” she said.

Deb was offered a new opportunity in the 1990’s to offer sales and leasing to corporate accounts in Michigan. Technology leasing allows companies to save costs, stay ahead of the game with changing technology, and more. CSI now has 40 offices in the U.S. alone, and subsidiaries all over the world.

The top challenges Deb sees her customers face are developing a technology lifecycle for their business, managing suppliers, and managing assets that are in play. CSI also helps companies get rid of technologies they don’t need anymore.

The leasing industry has always been male dominated. Deb said that, for many years, she was only one of two saleswomen at CSI. “She and I broke the mold. We were successful individuals, so we showed that we could equally succeed in the industry,” she said.

Now, CSI has a number of women executives and sales team members. Deb says that being a woman brings a natural strength in nurturing skills. She truly cares about her customers and she pays attention to all of the details.

Deb Swink was one of the early leaders for the Michigan Council of Women In Technology, an organization now numbering over 700 members. She was one of the few people who have stayed consistently active since its inception and she says it’s really helped her to network and grow as a leader. Networking and giving back are two important practices that MCWT has helped her cultivate.

Deb’s leadership advice for women and being a sales leader include:

  • Discipline, stay the course and have a strong work ethic.

  • Integrity, and reputations are the single most important traits of a leader. You must have integrity to develop trust.

  • Develop and hold to your beliefs;  you need to have passion and belief in yourself and your contributions.

Deb offered some great advice for us on this episode. She closed out by reminding us all to do the right thing, work in a place you believe in, and the money will follow. She can be reached at deb.swink@csileasing.com. She’s happy to meet and talk to any listeners anytime

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Diva Tech Talk Team

Podcast Divas