CIBC banker to take the wheel at Element Fleet Management

Current Element Fleet Management CEO Jay Forbes, seen in 2022, plans to retire after the company’s annual meeting in May.Handout

Banker Laura Dottori-Attanasio is taking the wheel as chief executive officer of the world’s largest automotive management company, Element Fleet Management Corp.

On Monday, Element EFN-T announced current CEO Jay Forbes plans to retire after the company’s annual meeting in May. Toronto-based Element, which finances and services 1½ million cars and trucks for corporate clients, said Ms. Dottori-Attanasio will join the company on Feb. 15 as president and take over as CEO in May.

Ms. Dottori-Attanasio is head of personal and commercial banking at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and was considered a candidate to be its next CEO. In mid-January, CIBC announced she plans to step down as a senior executive vice-president on Feb. 1, after 14 years at the bank.

In a press release, Element chair David Denison said: “Ms. Dottori-Attanasio’s proven track record of success in leading complex organizations and operations, coupled with her familiarity with the Element organization, ideally positions her to assume the CEO role.”

Mr. Forbes, 61, joined Element in 2018 at a time when the company faced a low share price and shareholder unrest, after leading successful turnarounds at five other companies, including Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. and Teranet Inc. Element’s share price increased almost fourfold on his watch.

Mr. Forbes said in an interview that he told the board about his retirement plans early last spring, triggering a year-long succession process.

“Element couldn’t be better positioned, with a strong balance sheet, a performance culture and enormous growth potential,” said Mr. Forbes, who will serve as a strategic adviser to the new CEO for two years after retirement. He said Ms. Dottori-Attanasio won the job because of her financial expertise – she was previously chief risk officer at CIBC – and her ability to lead a client-oriented business that provides essential services to corporations.

Ms. Dottori-Attanasio was not available for an interview on Monday.

Looking back over the past five years, Mr. Denison said: “Having solidified the company’s foundation, Jay then orchestrated a pivot to growth which, despite the considerable headwinds posed by the pandemic and new vehicle production shortages, has led to record operating and financial performance.”

Once he retires in May, Mr. Forbes said he plans to take time to reflect with family, and Element will be his last stint as a CEO. “These transformations are intense,” he said. “This is the capstone to my career, and I’m extremely proud of what our 2,500 employees and our executive team accomplished.”

Mr. Forbes earned total compensation of $6.8-million at Element in 2021, including $5.8-million of performance-based pay. At CIBC, Ms. Dottori-Attanasio made $4.3-million last year, including $3.5-million of compensation linked to performance.

Element’s roots are in automotive financing businesses spun out of General Electric Co. a decade ago. Over the past five years, Element changed the way it raises money to buy vehicles for clients by syndicating its automotive loans to insurance companies, which meant the company’s financial performance is no longer vulnerable to rising interest rates.

On Mr. Forbes’s watch, Element expanded its services, with customers, who initially only used the company for financing vehicles, signing up for maintenance, fuel and conversion to electric fleets. The company went from an industry laggard to a leader on client retention, with 99 per cent of customers sticking around, year after year. In a recent report, analyst Geoffrey Kwan at RBC Capital Markets said compared to other financial services companies, “we believe Element is less sensitive to a recession, high inflation or high interest rates.”

Element is among the largest fleet management companies in Canada, the United States and Mexico, and dominates the sector in Australia and New Zealand, with 40-per-cent market share. Mr. Forbes said the company is seeing a surge in new vehicle orders from customers, as pandemic-induced slowdown in auto production finally eases.

Earlier this month, CIBC announced Jon Hountalas, the bank’s head of commercial banking and wealth management, will add personal and business banking to his responsibilities.