Scott Freiman, co-founder of Credit Management Solutions Inc. in Annapolis Junction, admits he has things backwards.
A 37-year-old Yale graduate who majored in music and computer science, Freiman knows he is doing things a little differently than most music majors, who enter business only after they grow weary of living out of a van and playing at high school proms.
"You're supposed to have a music career first and then go be a real person," Freiman said.
But Freiman's musical ambitions are waiting for him in the shell of a studio he has built in his Potomac home. "Right now," said Freiman, who recently assumed the top post at the company he helped start more than 10 years ago, "I have a plan I need to execute."
The task before Freiman, who finds himself in the driver's seat after spending a decade in the wings cranking out computer programming and performing various management roles, is to reconnect the company with its many constituencies, especially investors who have been somewhat neglected during a year-long period of corporate self-examination and management shuffling.
Credit Management sells technology to financial institutions that helps them automate the lending process. And, through its CreditConnection technology, it links companies -- primarily automobile dealers -- with a network of lenders.
CreditConnection, the service Credit Management began offering in 1995, is something Freiman has long thought would help reshape the automobile financing process, eventually allowing car-buying customers to completely finance car loans online, without the uncomfortable act of discussing personal financial information with car salespeople.
Freiman has been traveling the country striking deals at a frenetic pace to ensure that his company's technology becomes the standard for online automobile financing -- if online car loans ever take off. In the past year, he has aligned himself with companies such as used-auto store CarMax as well as with online loan marketplaces such as LendingTree Inc.
However, the concept of financing a car online has been slow to catch on, according to James Punishell, an analyst for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., making the immediate "efficacy of [any] partnership questionable."
And while it waits for the market to catch on, Credit Management has been struggling with big losses, due primarily to spending on product development, as well as other expenses such as a new data center the company built to house its electronic commerce equipment.
In 1998, the company reported a loss of $9.8 million, more than double its loss in 1997. Its stock has remained almost flat, in the $3 to $7 range, and seems immune to long-term gains, even after flashy announcements such as the deal with LendingTree.
A year ago this month, Credit Management hired Peter Leger, a former senior executive at Automatic Data Processing Inc., as chief executive to help put its finances in order and bring discipline to a culture Freiman said was "too entrepreneurial, and too sales-oriented," often at the expense of the company's fiscal health.
Leger helped shift the company to "plans and budgets," Freiman said, but he resigned last month, citing family reasons (he had been commuting from Illinois).
Even though 1999 is looking healthier financially, the fiscal discipline has not fed the monster of Wall Street. In fact, Freiman said the year spent getting Credit Management's house in order, while necessary in some respects, served in some ways to further alienate investors.
Since the company's 1996 IPO, during which it raised $29 million primarily by touting its electronic commerce capabilities, there has been confusion in the investment community as to what kind of company it really is.
It has continued selling software packages, even as it beefs up its online lending network. Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc., which took the company public and was one of the only firms to follow the company's stock, currently does not have an analyst assigned to Credit Management.
Freiman said the first thing he did after taking the chief executive's post was to call investors, clients and employees to let them know Credit Management's executives had emerged from their period of introspection.
The timing might be right for Credit Management to reintroduce itself. A report scheduled for release today has already made news with its predictions that online automotive financing could be one of the biggest "sleeper industries."
According to the report by CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore., people are more prepared to embrace online auto financing than they are to actually buy a car online.
"There's an enormous amount of embarrassment with debt load, and still a lot of resistance to hearing rejection," which makes dealing with a faceless computer preferable to face-to-face negotiations, CNW Vice President Art Spinella said.
Spinella said that although his company's two-year survey of 1 million people showed that online buying would probably attract only about 30 percent of the car-buying market, online financing has much greater potential.
Of course, the question remains: when?
"The potential is that 60 percent of [automobile financing] could be done online," Spinella said, "but it might not reach that for six, seven or 10 years."
Freiman said he plans to stay put for at least five of those years. Until he can pursue his dream of performing onstage, there's always the studio he can finish, and the private performances with his sons, Max, 3, and Zack, 1, who enjoy singing along with him and the Beatles.