A traditionalist. A pragmatist. A very nice man. These were the thoughts that first ran through my head after hearing the news that Harold Fraizer, Director of Credit for Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company, passed away suddenly last week on July 18.
I was introduced to Harold in 2013 over lunch at the Grand Café in the Omni Hotel, just walking distance from Reliance’s downtown Los Angeles office. I was invited to chat about CMA and explore what the Association could do to support the credit teams at Reliance Corporate and at the many Reliance branch locations in California. What I found was a long-time credit professional who cared deeply about the credit profession and the people he supported. He wanted them all to have the best tools, resources, and training available so that they would be successful in their jobs. Clearly, he was a mentor as well as a leader.
Thus began a tradition of meeting for lunch about every six months or so, where I came to hear what Harold and Brian Lacey, his corporate credit manager, had to say about the state of credit.
This past April, I was thrilled when Harold agreed to participate on a panel discussion for our CreditScape Spring Summit. I interviewed him a few weeks before the event to help us both prep for the panel. During our discussion, he shared with me that Reliance concentrates on the front-end process and good credit management. He wanted his branch’s credit operations to focus on making good credit decisions and was willing to provide many options for tools and resources that would help accomplish that goal.
When I asked Harold about various automation tools that he was using or considered making available to his vast network of Reliance credit operations nationwide, he made it perfectly clear where he stood on the topic. “Credit’s not hard,” he said, “but what sets it apart from accounting is that it’s an art as well as a science. We don’t believe you can automate credit decisions. There will always be a role for the credit professional in making the final credit decision.”
What I learned from Harold is that success in credit is driven by the fundamentals – customer due diligence, smart data analysis, strong customer relationships, and good decisions. Automation will continue to drive modern credit processes, but can’t replace good professional judgement.
“You’re a credit manager – invest your time looking at all customers, not just the ones that are in front of you on the credit applications.”
I had lunch with Harold and Brian last month at our regular spot, the Grand Café. I asked Harold about how senior finance executives view the role of credit. He dismissed the idea that credit can be spun as a profit center. “It is a cost center, but if you let me do my job, I’ll save you a lot of money.”
On behalf of the staff and members at CMA, our deepest condolences to the Reliance Family for your loss.
Mike Mitchell is the President and CEO of Credit Management Association.