In July, when he was tapped to be the next CEO of Access Point Financial, Dilip Petigara found himself stepping up to steer one of the hospitality industry’s most deliberately visible direct lenders and specialty finance companies. At the time, some observers wondered how Petigara—APF’s COO since joining the company in 2012—would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and company founder, Jon S. Wright, a colorful presence on the industry scene who stepped down from the post earlier this year. But over the past five months, Petigara has proven he’s been more than able to fill a CEO’s footwear, although running shoes—not wingtips—are more in keeping with the pace he’s setting.
His current position has him connected to both financial and hospitality circles, with APF providing a range of loans, including new construction; mortgage; bridge; furniture, fixtures and equipment; and capital expenditure, to get lodging projects, particularly in the midmarket sector, out of the ground, renovated or repositioned.
Petigara’s roots, however, are distinctly in hospitality, his family having been invested in hotels outside of Philadelphia. Growing up, his attention turned to business and the law and he earned a bachelor’s and master’s in the former and a Juris Doctor and master’s (in taxation) in the latter.
Interestingly, Petigara did not take the bar exam. “I didn’t want to practice law. I really wanted to be on the business side. I did it for the education,” said the CEO.
Petigara’s career trail took him from VAI, a small, boutique investment banking firm to Arthur Anderson, subsequently acquired by Deloitte & Touche (now Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu). “I was put on special tax projects and that just wasn’t challenging for me,” he said. “Then, with my hospitality background, I had the opportunity to go work for GMAC Commercial Mortgage [as a loan underwriter] ... that was about 20 years ago and I’ve been with the platform [in executive positions at other companies] ever since.”
The platform is a great big stage for Petigara and he is maximizing his ability to make APF a star within the hospitality lending universe. He has been a presence during the third and fourth quarters at major conferences, brand events, regional meetings and on a number of educational panels, touting APF’s capabilities and making himself accessible to anyone who wants to learn more.
“We’re focused on growing the platform and capitalizing on the opportunities that are available out there,” said Petigara, who pinned much of APF’s success on the teamwork within the company “and the core group of principals who have been together for a long period of time. We work well together and it’s a relationship business at the end of the day.”
Despite the intensity of traveling for work—and the complexity of the work itself—the CEO readily enthuses about his job. “It’s ever changing; that’s a great thing. The competitive landscape’s changing. The industry’s changing because consumer demands, consumer preferences are changing. There [are] different distribution channels and disrupters,” said Petigara. “You’re always on your toes and it’s always about just being able to reflexively act and prospectively create loan products that our customers will need and be able to deliver for them. We’re enjoying their success. When they’re successful, we’re successful. About 60 percent, 70 percent of our customers are repeat customers.”
The segue from COO to CEO has been relatively smooth for Petigara, who, in addition to citing his work family’s support, credits his own family’s backing in helping him make the transition.
“I have a very supportive wife, who gives me the opportunity to do this,” he said with a smile. “I also have two young kids: a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. They’re a handful, but they are certainly kind of what you wake up for every day and what we continue to be out there for.” He also remains in close contact with his mother and two sisters.
For APF, Petigara said he’s eager to expand his relationships with the parent companies of franchised brands, as well as focus internally on technology and staffing “to really create a workflow model based on that human capital.” Additionally, he sees technology resources helping to “appropriately manage our loan assets as well as give several different touchpoints to our customers ... it just helps us stay on top of the projects because everything we do has a value-add component, whether it’s a [property improvement plan]; a reposition of an asset, i.e., brand conversion; or it could be an acquisition with a PIP; or new-construction as well.”
Logic in Logistics
With some recent hires, Petigara expects to top out his team at around 40 staff members, but doesn’t see adding any extra branch offices at this time. “We’re primarily located in Atlanta and we have our capital-markets function in Minneapolis; an individual who moved [out of New York] to be closer to family. Then we have a business-development person out of Buffalo, N.Y. Other than that, it’s all internal because I also want to make sure we’re fostering a collaborative work environment [as well as] have it convenient to get anywhere.”
Clicking with Clients
Petigara believes both Access Point Financial’s internal and external relationships are at the core of driving the company’s success. “It’s developing those relationships, cultivating them over time and having a good team that’s helping develop the product and consistently perform for our customers, to be nimble for our customers and to be flexible for our customers. I would like us to become a household name in terms of hospitality finance,” said the CEO.