Somerset Capital Group, Ltd.

612 Wheelers Farms Road
Milford, Connecticut 06461
U.S.A.
Telephone: (203) 701-5100
Toll Free: (877) 282-9922
Fax: (203) 301-3253
Web site: http://www.somersetcapital.com

Private Company
Incorporated:
1996
Employees: 84
NAICS: 532420 Office Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing; 532490 Other Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing

Somerset Capital Group, Ltd. (SCG), is the parent company of a group of subsidiaries that buy equipment to lease back to midsized and large companies. The sectors served by SCG include automotive manufacturing, energy and power, food and beverage manufacturing, health care and pharmaceuticals, metals manufacturing, technology, wholesale and distribution, and higher education. Besides equipment financing that ranges from about $100,000 to $25 million, SCG offers asset acquisition disposal, asset management, logistics, and asset disposal services, as well as engineering system solutions. SCG's divisions are involved in the leasing of material handling equipment, information technology equipment, power systems, and semiconductor test equipment. The Somerset Aviation Capital subsidiary focuses on the leasing of airport ground service equipment, including baggage carts, deck loaders, deicers, boarding ramps, tractors and tugs, fueling trucks, and shuttle buses. Based in Milford, Connecticut, the group also maintains operations in Canada and the United Kingdom and its reach extends throughout North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

COFOUNDER, A CUBAN IMMIGRANT

SCG was cofounded by Pedro Wasmer. He was born in 1940 in Cuba, where his parents owned a beach house next to the home owned by the family of Fidel Castro, the future revolutionary and president of the communist state of Cuba. “In 1947, he turned 21 when I turned 7, and we shared a birthday cake together,” Wasmer recalled to Bob Chuvala in the Fairfield County Business Journal in September 2002. Castro showed off his pistol to the child, demonstrating how to load it. “I was in awe of this man,” Wasmer said. After his father died, Wasmer and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1951, settling in Baltimore. His admiration for Castro would wane after a communist regime was established in Cuba. “Most of the people from my family who supported him had to leave Cuba,” he said.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES

A more INTELLIGENT approach to equipment finance.

In 1980 Wasmer struck out on his own, launching Somerset Investments Services Inc. (SIS), an office equipment leasing company based in Westport, Connecticut. The following year the company entered into its first lease with the ITT Corporation, which became a core customer. In 1984 SIS registered as a minority-owned enterprise. That same year Wasmer merged SIS with Neptune Computer Holding Ltd., a New York computer leasing company. The combined enterprise was then acquired in 1986 by Goldome Federal Savings Bank of Buffalo and became a leasing arm of the bank.

WASMER FORMS TWO NEW LEASING COMPANIES

In 1988 Wasmer left Goldome to start a new company in Westport called St. James Leasing, named after Santiago, his hometown in Cuba. He launched a second company as well, Somerset Investment Services Ltd. He served as CEO and was joined by a Goldome colleague, a man named Sternstein, who became the CFO. The new businesses enjoyed immediate success, securing a major lease with IBM, which became a long-term core customer. In 1991 St. James generated $25 million in new lease originations.

Steady growth continued, but the company failed to generate a profit. To pinpoint the problem, Wasmer hired an outside accountant, who was unable to determine the cause. Next, in 1995 Wasmer hired a new manager, who was tasked with discovering any underlying problems of the business. The new manager soon unraveled the mystery, but before he could reveal it to Wasmer, Sternstein confessed to having embezzled funds. He admitted to defrauding the company and clients of more than $2 million. In the end, Sternstein spent seven months in jail for his crimes.

Wasmer was stunned by the news of his partner's deceit. “It's like having a cancer and not knowing it,” he told Andrew Scott in the Fairfield County Business Journal in July 2005. “When we learned what was going on, we had to go through our own form of chemo.” Sternstein had been involved in numerous fraudulent transactions, requiring Wasmer to meet with his many victims, including clients, vendors, banks, and insurance companies. Wasmer's leasing companies owed about $5 million to lenders and others, many of whom demanded that the companies declare bankruptcy. The parties ultimately agreed to a plan in which Wasmer pledged to repay his lenders in full.

POST-SCANDAL CHANGES

Wasmer made a number of structural changes in the wake of the scandal. In 1996 Somerset Capital Group, Ltd., was established as the holding company for St. James and Somerset Investment Services. Wasmer also appointed Evan M. Bokor to serve as the CFO of SCG. The certified public accountant had begun his business career in 1983 and three years later joined Neptune Computer Group, Inc., a major computer equipment leasing company. He rose through the ranks to become CFO and in 1993 spearheaded the sale of the company's entire information technology lease portfolio. He then helped grow the medical equipment leasing unit and oversaw the sale of that business before joining SCG.

Besides an organizational restructuring, Wasmer implemented a system of checks and balances to prevent any future attempts at financial malfeasance. Moreover, he launched a cost-cutting program that included a reduction in his own salary. He sold the headquarters and moved the business to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he secured smaller and less expensive accommodations. Other assets were sold as well. These steps proved effective and within two years all the debt had been repaid.

KEY DATES
1980:
Pedro Wasmer founds Somerset Investments Services Inc.
1988:
Wasmer starts new leasing companies.
1996:
The holding company Somerset Capital Group, Ltd., is created.
2007:
Wasmer retires and sells company.
2017:
SCG becomes one of the five largest private leasing companies in the United States.

In 1999 St James and Somerset Investment Services were merged into SCG. That same year the company launched its first funding program, in partnership with the Wafra Investment Advisory Group. The $41 million raised was used to fund equity in operating lease transactions. As the decade came to a close, SCG acquired the equipment lease portfolio of LEC Leasing, adding Bank of America, Tiffany & Co., and other major clients. As a result, the company topped $100 million in new lease originations for the first time. SCG also formed Somerset Technology Sales, a subsidiary that bought, sold, and remarketed computers and other information technology equipment.

SCG's volume of business peaked just short of $200 million in 2000, at which point it was simply incapable of taking on additional business. The company continued to expand, but at a more measured rate. In 2002 it topped the $200 million mark. That same year it added the Kellogg Company as a client. In time, Kellogg would emerge as SCG's largest customer. In general, SCG focused on leasing assets with a relatively short life span; thus, it was investing in the value of the equipment after the expiration of the lease. Hence, the company shied away from leasing airplanes, trucks, freight cars, and other equipment that had a longer life span.

By that point SCG was maintaining offices in Boston, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Frederick, Maryland. Besides organic growth, the company expanded through external means. In 2003 it acquired an equipment lease portfolio from a German bank as well as a $30 million portfolio of an equipment leasing income fund. To support its expanding business, SCG maintained a warehouse in Scottsdale, Arizona, and developed a computerized inventory system to better track leased equipment.

WASMER RETIRES: 2007

In 2003 SCG posted revenues of $115.5 million, representing a three-year growth rate of more than 500 percent. The following year its revenues rose 56 percent to $160.4 million. To maintain steady growth, the company continued to diversify as the decade unfolded, helping offset a trend of companies opting to own their equipment. In 2006 Somerset Equipment Sales was established to buy, sell, and remarket material handling equipment.

By that point Wasmer was preparing to retire. As part of a succession plan, Bokor was named COO in 2006. The following year he led a management buyout of the company and succeeded Wasmer as president and CEO of SCG. Bokor quickly made his mark. SCG entered the Canadian market, followed in 2008 by the Asian market, where a foothold was established in Singapore. For the year, new lease originations reached a company record of $276 million.

To keep pace with expansion, SCG began scouting for a new corporate headquarters during the fall of 2008. After visiting several possible locations in the Westport area, the company settled on a new building in Milford, Connecticut. At 16,000 square feet, it was 2,000 square feet larger than the company's previous offices. SCG completed the move during the fall of 2009.

Following a downturn in the economy and a period of tight credit, SCG resumed growth in 2010, when it entered the equipment leasing market in Taiwan and acquired the Velocity Financial Group's $22 million equipment lease portfolio. That same year SCG forged a partnership with Plug Power Inc., a developer of fuel cell technology. Under the terms of the agreement, SCG acted as Plug Power's global customer lease provider for its Gen Drive fuel cell solution.

ESTABLISHING U.K. DIVISION: 2012

SCG expanded on several fronts in the years that followed. In 2012 it became involved in the equipment leasing market in the United Kingdom, establishing Somerset Equipment Finance (UK) Ltd. In 2015 it formed Somerset ATE Solutions, Ltd., to rent and lease semiconductor automated test equipment (ATE) and acquired an undisclosed independent equipment leasing company. The following year SCG added to its ATE business by signing an agreement to originate leases for Boston Semi Equipment, a global provider of equipment and services to semiconductor manufacturers. Also in 2016 SCG acquired an unnamed leasing company that primarily served midsized banks in the United States.

In 2017 SCG became one of the five largest private leasing companies in the United States. It faced no shortage of challenges, however. Bank-owned leasing companies and other independent leasing concerns offered pricing that made it extremely difficult to turn a profit. SCG responded with a concerted effort to contain costs and to pursue asset classes neglected by competitors. With the heady days of the late 1990s a distant memory, SCG targeted annual growth of about 10 percent in the short term. Regardless of a highly competitive landscape, SCG appeared well positioned to enjoy steady, albeit modest, growth in the years ahead.

Ed Dinger

PRINCIPAL SUBSIDIARIES

Somerset ATE Solutions; Somerset Aviation Capital; Somerset Equipment Sales.

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Dell Technologies Inc.; IBM Global Financing; TF Group, Inc.

FURTHER READING

Chuvala, Bob. “Pedro Wasmer Achieves the American Dream.” Fairfield County Business Journal, September 30, 2002, 1.

Dawkins, Pam. “Leasing Company Strives in City.” Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT), April 5, 2004.

Garwood, Rita E. “Top Five Private Independents: Each Creates a Unique Blueprint for Success.” Monitor Daily, March−April 2018.

Scott, Andrew. “Leasing Business Rises from Dark Past.” Fairfield County Business Journal, July 4, 2005, 1.

“Success Stories: A Look at the Fastest-Growing Companies in Urban Areas.” Inc., May 2004, 100.

Varnon, Rob. “Firm Finds New Home.” Advocate (Stamford-Norwalk, CT), August 6, 2009.