After 30 years in the business, John Stevenson, the senior director of Financial and Real Estate Services at U.S. Cellular, has a great outlook on the roads that often lead consumers into collections. Most people don’t want to be in that situation, and the goal should be to get people out of it as quickly and easily as possible. Read on to learn more about John, his love of bourbon and bike riding, and his work with the Telecommunications Risk Management Association.
Name: John Stevenson
Company: U.S. Cellular
Length of time at current company: Almost 13 years, started in November of 2005.
Length of time in industry: A little more than 30 years.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I started as a universal rep (but we did not call it that back then) at Nynex Mobile in NY in 1986. We did a little bit of everything in the call center — sales, dealer support, customer service, and of course, collections. One call would be from someone who wanted to buy service, the next would be from a customer who’s account was suspended for nonpayment. We got pretty good at switching gears quickly, which has served me well over the years.
What is your career highlight so far?
That’s a tough one. I have worked for three large Telco’s, a debt buyer, a fraud management firm, and a credit decision support company in my career. I think what we have established at U.S. Cellular is something I am very proud of. Everyone wants and needs a wireless device, but at times consumers sign up for a little more than they can afford, or need a little more time to pay. We have built an end-to-end approach that evaluates applicants, helps get them a plan that they can afford, and then works with them when they struggle. It is a great mix of people, process, and technology and I have a great team that is always looking for ways to improve.
When or how are you most productive?
My days tend to be packed with meetings and “I have a quick question” type drop-ins, so I try to get in early and tackle items that need more thought or undivided attention early in the morning. Definitely not right after lunch — I save that slot for administrative work!
Which industry professional do you admire most?
Wow — so many come to mind given my 30+ years of working with agencies, credit bureaus, data providers and fraud management companies. Chris Hansen at Sprint taught me a whole lot about collections when I worked there, and Tim Bauer (now with DCM) has been a great resource over the years. I have tried to learn from the various companies and individuals I have worked with over the years, taking a little bit from each.
What is one thing you do better than everyone else?
I try hard to follow that Steve Jobs philosophy — hire good people, tell them what the goal is, and then help them get there. Given my current responsibilities include Real Estate, Facilities, and Receivables, I am that classic jack of all trades.
What do you like most about this industry?
The people, especially the front-line associates who handle the hundreds of calls or chats that come in each day. They have to bring that positive attitude on every interaction. We are a resilient bunch in the AR world, always looking to figure out ways to do our jobs better and provide greater returns to our companies and shareholders.
What is one thing you wish you could change about this industry?
Our reputation is still dominated by the small number of bad actors. The vast majority are good honest companies and individuals working to ensure that people are treated fairly but also pay for the goods and services they consume. We need to keep on putting the word out about the importance of what we do for the economy.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
Hard to say. I think I am like a lot of us in this industry who kind of stumbled into it via an entry-level job or a transfer from another area of a business. We learned it was important to the bottom line, fascinating, and always changing, so we stuck with it.
Describe a typical work day.
Lots of meetings, calls, quick hallway conversations. I have to block off time for planning and strategy work. I try to get in a 15-to-30 minute walk every day; sometime this is how I conduct a one-on-one meeting with a coworker.
What is your guilty pleasure?
My wife and I just took a trip on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, so that tells you a little something. Angel’s Envy and Wild Turkey were our favorites. I love getting out on my bicycle on the many trails we have in the Chicago suburbs and riding for a couple of hours — no calls, no music, just burning a few calories and enjoying the great outdoors.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Probably my dad’s three pearls:
- If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.
- Never leave Job #1 until Job #2 is signed, sealed & delivered.
- When on a business trip, don’t call home to your spouse or significant other and brag about the great meal or hotel, because at home the dog just threw up, the car has a flat, and the kids have the flu … 🙂
What are you currently reading?
I am almost finished with getting my MBA so my reading has been mainly finance and economics texts the last 18 months or so. I also like reading the classics when time permits. I have “Heart of Darkness” ready to go for an upcoming beach vacation.
What is one fact you’d like everyone in the industry to know about you?
I am currently serving as the president of the TRMA (Telecommunications Risk Management Association). It’s a great small association for the Telco, PayTV, Satellite, and Utility industry providers and the companies that support us in optimizing risk. Check us out at www.trmanet.org
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
It would be interesting to see someone from the credit bureau/data provider side of the industry, perhaps Cathy Begnino of Equifax.