Since Joseph Esposito joined GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) in 1999, the company has exploded into a world leader in aviation leasing and financing. Today, it offers a variety of services, from aircraft and engine leasing and financing to airframe-parts management. The company owns or services a fleet of more than 1,900 commercial aircraft (1,552 fixed-wing, 350 rotary-wing) in operation or on order, plus it provides loans collateralized on roughly 320 additional aircraft. In total, GECAS serves about 250 customers in more than 75 countries, with $43 billion in assets (as of December 2017) and 25 offices around the globe.
Esposito, who has worked his way from staff attorney to senior vice president and associate general counsel over the past two decades, is grateful to have played a part in GECAS’s tremendous growth. “I have a deep understanding of what drives the company—and how to get the returns we’re looking for,” he says, adding that such abilities are critical for in-house attorneys to be most effective in executing for their employers.
To continue to deliver for the company, he’s developed a comprehensive leadership philosophy based on five major principles: meritocracy, collaboration, partnership, accountability, and mentorship. Here, he breaks down the importance of each one.
Esposito firmly believes in business as a meritocracy, and it heavily informs his leadership style at GECAS. A culture of meritocracy is a “pillar for success,” he says, and to this end, he hires and promotes based largely on performance. Esposito has learned at GECAS that it’s not just about a team’s results; it’s about how those results are achieved by each member. “It’s the what you do and how you do it” that interests him most, he says.
A meritocracy, Esposito adds, is also a fundamental component to ensuring that work is done with integrity, cooperation, and the right temperament. Operating any other way shortchanges your business, your customers, and your investors alike. “I’m blessed to be in an organization where this is fully embraced,” he says.
“There aren’t many things we do around here that don’t require collaboration to be successful,” Esposito says.
He’s proud to note that GECAS has institutionalized a sense of collaboration throughout the entire organization, not just within his legal team. For instance, for every account, GECAS assembles a team of experts from various departments—marketing, risk underwriting, legal, accounting, insurance, tech, and more—to structure transactions with the customers and investors.
Within his department, Esposito fosters further collaboration through an open-door policy for all and regular meetings with his staff. “Anyone who comes here experiences far more collaboration than they expected or experienced before,” Esposito says. “Knowing you have people pulling together, helping each other out, elevates everyone.”
While Esposito’s purview extends primarily to GECAS’s legal department, he also feels a responsibility to be a partner to the business as a whole. “As attorneys, we need to have a deep understanding of the business we’re in,” he says, adding that he requires his team to be agile and forward-thinking.
When working out transactions with customers, for example, attorneys can often get caught up in small technical or legal points, which may not be important in the overall context of a deal. To address this, Esposito encourages his staff to build relationships with the business teams, gain their confidence, and give them a seat at the table. “My goal is to help others understand and appreciate that strategy, which might let them get something better elsewhere if you concede that smaller point,” he says. “That mind-set is critical for a shop like ours, where the attorneys are on the front end of the business, helping to meet our customers’ needs.”
As a leader, Esposito works diligently to hold himself accountable to his team. “There are two sides of the coin: advocacy and accountability,” he says. “It’s important to be an advocate for your team and for oneself, but you have to remain accountable.”
A vital component of this effort is recognizing when he has made mistakes, embracing them, and learning from them as best he can so that he can avoid them in the future. It helps him maintain trust, credibility, and confidence with his team. “Transparency helps performance,” he says.
Last but not least, Esposito places a great deal of importance on the professional development of his staff. “You need to build your team to meet the business’s needs, now and in the future,” he says, adding that he’s specifically dedicated to facilitating leadership qualities in his talent.
Esposito works hard to find “the levers for energizing” the people on his team, which are more complicated than one might think. “Obviously compensation is important, but there are many others such as people being purpose or challenge driven,” he says. “They want to know their work is impactful and will make a difference, and some want to be challenged by getting those stretch assignments or taking on greater responsibilities.”
Esposito largely credits GECAS’s robust training and management programs with his ability to provide strong mentorship to his team members. The University at GE provides weeks-long training sessions at campuses such the main one in Crotonville, New York, for support, development, and leadership skills. He also credits the general counsel of all the businesses within GECAS, John Ludden. “One of John’s guiding principles is to expand the knowledge of not only those in the legal function but also all employees across the board,” Esposito says. The attorneys at GECAS hold or sponsor training sessions for all employees on various topics throughout each year
As Esposito continues to practice this and the other tenets of his leadership philosophy, he’s certain they will lead to continued growth for GECAS and the company’s immense talent.