Were I ever to be stranded on a desert island, Mike Hiller is exactly the type of person I would want there with me. His unique perspective would help make the days pass by so much quicker. Mike probably has the longest origin story about how he got started in collections, yet I still wanted to read more. Having Mike on a desert island would also be helpful when it came time to find and cook something to eat. His culinary tastes and travels would be sure to make having to eat coconut day after day not only tolerable, but enjoyable. Read on to learn more about Mike.
Name: Mike Hiller
Company: American Profit Recovery
Length of time at current company: 12 years
Length of time in industry: 12 years
How did you get your start in the industry?
The Spring of 2004, the final weeks of undergraduate study and not so final finals, was decision time for yours truly. A stat geek with respectable GRE scores and unbridled confidence meant grad school was a forgone conclusion. I had my sights set on a private school with great U.S. News & World Report’s reviews, the University of Detroit Mercy (one of only three universities in the state that, at the time, offered Master’s level Graduate study in Industrial/Organization Psychology).
It’s worth backing up here to say that being the first in your family to graduate with a four-year degree comes with a lot of “don’t ‘F’ this up your younger sibling/cousins are paying close attention” responsibility (please forgive the expletive – ‘you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy’ – hey, is a cliché’ for a reason). Having grown up in Northern Michigan meant that moving to the “D” might as well have been Chi-town or the Big Apple, but I’ve digressed long enough.
The rest of the ‘how did I end up in the collection industry’ story (answering an ad in the Detroit Free Press – back when newsprint help wanted ads were a thing) is pretty unostentatious, but making the decision to uproot everything I had ever known to migrate south and take up study in the city right before and during the great recession turned out to be an unequivocal experience. One I will never forget or ever regret.
As it turns out getting into collections was as simple as turning down every other offer (some ‘better’ in the immediate income sense of the word and many worse in the capital ‘W’ hot knock in the city in the winter sense of the word) and accepting an entry-level position for one simple reason. I wanted to work for a guys like Barry Jennings and Jeff Spurgess (my first and second interviews with APR). Staying in collections meant turning down a referral to a PhD program at Syracuse (closer to the real Big Apple), building a house (as in with help and these two hands) in the same amount of time most people watch TV per week (five hours and four minutes of television per day … over 35 hours according to the New York Daily News), and carving out a life and living from which I still find both challenging and rewarding.
What is your career highlight so far?
Being promoted to Vice President of Collections at American Profit Recovery has been an awesome responsibility; Serving as a Subject Matter Expert for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory affairs was pretty fun, too; The highlight of my career thus far though has been passing the torch, watching collectors I’ve hired get promoted to management positions and in turn hire collectors of their own who they have coached into management roles.
When or how are you most productive?
I find that I thrive on ambiguity. Giving an answer, answering a question is easy. The challenging exercise lies in deciding what question/s should be asked and then finding the best way to solve those proverbial riddles.
What is one thing you do better than everyone else?
I don’t do these things better, necessarily, but I do try very hard to incorporate them into everything I touch and every decision made. Critical thinking, relationship building, data synthesizing, fixing things unbroken, breaking things unfixed.
What do you like most about this industry?
I read a critique/review about the ARM industry recently which read in part, ‘Long hours, fast-paced, demanding, always changing, really hard work…’ It was honest, to the point, and just as important, accurate…So that’s my answer, what I enjoy about our industry is what puts many people off: Long hours, fast-paced, demanding, always changing, hard work.
What is one thing you wish you could change about this industry?
Look, one day we’ll open a nice bottle of Scotch together and I’ll wax-poetically about the hundred things that would make the industry better for both consumers and agencies. For now, the one thing I would like to see change is the omnipresent rhetoric concerning what changes should be made. We chose this industry – or if you’re like me it chose you – and we stayed. Deal with it.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t here it would be the result of being independently wealthy, the sort of wealthy that makes for Angel Venture Capitalism.
Describe a typical work day.
- 4:47am – Alarm clock
- Self, dogs, Kids…food, clothes, car
- 7:00am – 6:00pm: Office
- Audit reports, meetings, stats, campaign scheduling, making/taking collection calls with the collection staff, interviewing, training, interdepartmental/intradepartmental communications (mostly emails), legal, metrics, special projects, account life workflow, compliance, budget, contests, blog writing, webinars, exam materials, and consumer compliments (yes compliment tracking 🙂 ).
- 6:30/7:30pm – dinner with family, baths, storytime (dad’s favorite time of the day), bed.
- 8:00pm – light reading
What is your guilty pleasure?
I also collect (and use) hand tools, fishing lures, wild game calls
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Wear your work ethic on your sleeve; We are coefficients of a truth that we help to create; Break up unmanageable tasks into manageable ones; Any fool can make a rule and every fool will follow it; Never expect anyone to do someone you haven’t done yourself; Leadership means service-ship; Find something you’re passionate about; My opinion changes when they facts do.
What are you currently reading?
What is one fact you’d like everyone in the industry to know about you?
I’ve run a couple marathons, completed a bunch of races and even an Olympic distance triathlon, but I’m a foodie. Traveled half the world over (Spanish tapas, German wiener schnitzel, Hawaiian poke, Italian cheeses, Irish dinner served in a pint glass called stout, English fish and chips, Southern gumbo, Scottish haggis, UP pasties, Alaskan spam, Oysters from the west to east coast, and I love it all). Food is the communal experience, the journey that outshines the destination, so pull up a stool, break some bread, and share some stories.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Matt Moskowitz, Jeff Dimatteo