Unsung Heroes 2023: Ritchie Bros. VP Chris Quinn has lofty goals for the company’s financial division

Chris Quinn made Ritchie Bros an offer it couldn't refuse.

Quinn made Ritchie Bros an offer it couldn’t refuse

Walking into Chris Quinn’s corner office, one can’t help but glance over at the autographed, framed Roberto Luongo and Trevor Linden jerseys and wonder if Quinn himself still thinks about the future that almost was.

Raised in Kelowna to what he calls a “split family,” both of Quinn’s fathers were heavily involved in the equipment finance industry, one working for one of Canada’s largest equipment financing providers and the other on the entrepreneurial side, growing one of the country’s biggest independent equipment and transportation firms. Naturally, he originally wanted nothing to do with that world. Instead, he graduated high school and, with the help of Australian citizenship, packed his bags for Griffith University in Queensland, where he studied sports business and marketing.

He also played in the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League with the now defunct but incredibly named Brisbane Blue Tongues. Because it was the offseason for other professional sports leagues, Quinn suited up with a variety of high-calibre players who were looking to stay fit, including NHLer and Olympian Rob Zamuner, who joined Brisbane at the tail end of his career.

When Quinn came back to Canada after four years and landed a job in Vancouver as a marketing assistant with the Canucks, one might have figured his story was headed towards a quick happily ever after, one that saw him climb the ranks of the NHL franchise. But there’s a reason we’re in the Burnaby-based office of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers and not in the bowels of Rogers Arena.

“I spent about a year there and very quickly found out that having what you’re most passionate about in life as a career is sometimes hard and challenging,” reflects Quinn. “I felt less like a fan and more on the business side. And I started thinking that it wasn’t right for me long-term.”

So he moved back to Kelowna and, wouldn’t you know it, got involved in the equipment finance industry. As an account executive with Burnaby-based Travelers Financial Group, Quinn saw opportunity in the financial collapse of 2008, when Ritchie Bros.’ main financial partner was hit hard by the recession. Ritchie Bros., founded more than 60 years ago in Kelowna, needed a financial partner to work alongside its heavy equipment auctions and provide credit deals to customers.

“The very first auction I ever attended was in Prince George,” Quinn recalls. “I drove up there, showed up and ran down to Telus or Rogers or whatever it was and got an internet stick. We ended up financing a few pieces of equipment. So I reached out to the local Surrey operations manager and showed up there to provide financing as well.”

From there, Quinn went to the larger Ritchie Bros. auctions in places like Toronto and Edmonton, where multiple financiers would be competing for customers’ attention. He couldn’t help but think that, for Ritchie Bros. itself, this wasn’t the best business model. “The customer just goes from table to table to table, applying for credit application or approval, and the lenders are all competing against each other, but there was no revenue realization to Ritchie Bros.,” he says. “What they were missing is a strate- gic finance and insurance office you would see at any major equipment or truck dealer. When you want to buy a car from Ford, after they sell you on the vehicle, the next person you talk to is the finance manager.”

In 2011, Quinn, with six employees and three interns, started Ritchie Bros. Financial Services. Today, he’s the vice president of sales and marketing of RBFS, which has some 340 people to its name. That figure represents some 10 percent of Ritchie Bros.’ total staff. “For us, we’ve built this business to be the opposite of the traditional banker— we are customer centric,” says Quinn.

An example of that is the company becoming, at least according to Quinn, the first in the space with payment deferral options: “We offer the fist 90 or 120 days payment free, because we know that the equipment might need some work, customers might want to give it a paint job, they could not be generating revenue for a little while—why not make it easier?”

Quinn thinks there’s still a fair bit of growth to come for the company’s fastest growing department, one that he’s built with a fairly non-traditional approach to hiring. “I’m not going to hire you based on what your resumé tells me,” he says. “We look for people that have the right DNA—where what they’re looking for in a career is going to match the job offer we have for them. If I can provide you with the environment, compensation and the overall experience that’s going to sing to you as an employee or a member of our team, you’re going to enjoy what you do at work. I can train you on what equipment financing is, but I can’t change your inherent wiring.”

Quinn talks a lot about the “three Rs— reward, recognition and results.” The former two are highlighted by other items in Quinn’s office: pictures of team members celebrating in beachy destinations like Cabo. Salespeople in the top 10 to 15 per- cent of the company are taken on an all-expenses paid vacation with their spouse. “It’s something at the end of the road that hard work pays off for,” says Quinn.

As for that last R, they sort of speak for themselves. “It was a little bit of luck, a little bit of right time, right place,” says Quinn, reflecting on his career thus far. Maybe the jerseys are more of a cautionary tale after all.

Q&A with Chris Quinn

What’s your leadership style?

It sounds like the scripted answer, but being accessible to anyone within the organization, regardless of where you fit. We’re a relationship-based business. Specifically for me, I was asked not too long ago how often I go to meet with customers. I had to think about it for a bit, but it’s actually been years since I’ve been sitting in front of a customer. My main customers are our team members. We have a winning mentality, a winning culture—we’ve been on a whirlwind pace. People have been excited to be attached to that growth rocketship within a publicly traded company. That’s allowed us to be entrepreneurial in our spirit and chase after this fail fast and pivot mentality. We embrace failure. If you’re not failing, you’re not learning.