While market conditions are decimating CIT Group as a whole, Christine Reilly, head of CIT's Small Business Lending Corporation, soldiers on, finding some upside in recent results. To start, the SBL group has been the No. 1 SBA 7(a) lender for eight consecutive years; over the past five years the group has been the top lender to women, veteran and minority-owned businesses.

Yet, despite the successes, when Reilly took over the group in May of 2006, some would argue that business had grown stagnant. The team had a sales force spread across 48 states without centralized leadership. That changed once Reilly took charge. She restructured the sales and operations teams to form one centralized back office-including all underwriting, closing and servicing-out of Livingston, NJ. The two-phase process that began in 2006 finished in the first half of this year, she says.

At the start of her tenure, growth was good. In 2007 SBL's originations grew 18 percent and exceeded $1 billion. But in the first half of 2008, like SBA lending overall, the group's originations are down close to 10 percent. The division's serviced loan portfolio stands at approximately $3.6 billion.

Reilly's SBL group is one of 10 whose financial performance rolls up into CIT's Corporate Finance division. In the second quarter of 2008 Corporate Finance reported net income of $59 million, a decrease of 73 percent from the $219 million reported in the year-earlier quarter. Still, the $59 million represented a rebound of sorts from the loss of $20 million that the division suffered in the first quarter of 2008.

So how does one lead in an environment such as this? The collapse of the credit markets and economic malaise is forcing CIT Group to refocus itself into a smaller company. Reilly's response also has been to reorganize, and cut operating expenses by 20 percent. She has also diversified the groups offering by expanding into the conventional and 504 loan markets. "We used the downturn to improve our business model by restructuring our operations," Reilly says. "Our volumes were clearly down from the prior year, and that gave us breathing room."

Whether following board mandates or strategic instincts, two individuals serve as Reilly's sources of inspiration. One is Carly Fiorina, for being a courageous and passionate innovator. But foremost is her father, Philip J. Reilly, who was the CFO of a Fortune 50 financial company and raised five kids as a single parent. She credits him for his wise counsel. "From the time I was a very little girl he told me that I was as smart as I was beautiful, and I could do whatever I wanted to do in this world," she says, laughing at how simple he made it all sound. "And I believed him."

Return to the 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

(c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.americanbanker.com/usb.html/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/ >

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.