Of all the people who have participated in this profile, and possibly all the people in the credit and collection industry, Steven Fuernstahl might have had the most inauspicious start imaginable. But, despite only lasting three hours at his first collections job, Steven did not give up — thanks to what he describes as his “ultra-competitive” streak — and now, 28 years later, look at how far he has come. Read on to learn more about Steven and how he really doesn’t feel guilty about his guilty pleasure.
Name: Steven Fuernstahl
Company: Stoneleigh Recovery Associates
Length of time at current company: 11 Years
Length of time in industry? 28 Years
How did you get your start in the industry?
Of course, I am going to say I knew someone who was working in the industry, but that is not the entertaining part. The information everyone tends to find humorous is the fact I was relieved of employment from the first agency after only a few hours of being there. Anyone else remember a time when training consisted of sitting next to someone and listening to them speak on the phone for a brief amount of time then directed to a workstation which consisted of a phone, note pad, pen, and a rolodex of file cards? Unfortunately, I was paired with an individual who was less than enthusiastic about work in general, I did not hear him speak with a single person which included me. I was employed roughly three hours when the manager tapped me on the shoulder and said “Steve, this is not the job for you.” I did not even make it through the first day.
What is your career highlight so far?
Although nearly 12 years have now passed, I can still vividly remember when Rudy Knepper and I were figuring out how to complete state licensing as we were getting ready to commence operations for Stoneleigh Recovery Associates. Understanding the success rate of launching a business and remaining in operation is stacked against business owners in normal conditions, our timing was impeccable as Stoneleigh commenced operating and immediately encountered the enormous difficulties associated with the onset of the financial crisis.
I reflect and appreciate that I was able to discover a deeper level of insight and understanding about myself, it required me to stretch well beyond where I felt my mental boundaries resided. Being forced to routinely encounter extremely challenging situations was a truly humbling experience but allowed me to see the degree of grit and determination I was previously not aware I possessed.
My highlight was when Stoneleigh Recovery Associates celebrated its 10th year in operation, I have to say it is the “SRA Team Highlight”, it would not have been possible if not for the amazing people surrounding me.
When or how are you most productive?
I have a very odd work schedule, outside of the fact I really enjoy working, my brain feels the appropriate time to really amp up is around 9 PM. I often experience times where I work through the night and remain in an enormously productive and engaged flow state for 12 to 14 hours straight, typically occurring at least two times each week.
Which industry professional do you admire most?
There are a lot of people that I respect and admire in the industry but there is an individual which immediately popped in my head which would be Kelly Knepper-Stephens. The velocity in which she was able to enter the business and become a trusted and respected member of the industry eclipsed any notion I previously held as a possibility. I find Kelly to be a truly exceptional person as she seemingly possesses and exhibits the perfect blend of intelligence, engaging personality, confidence, and work ethic, I believe her ongoing successes is inevitable regardless of career path pursued.
Although Kelly is no longer employed at Stoneleigh Recovery Associates, I will always say, I love my attorney!
What is one thing you do better than everyone else?
I do not compare myself to others, I understand the areas where I excel within the core competencies I possess, I tend to focus my time further understanding and addressing the areas I view as underdeveloped or opportunity. I feel I was blessed with a mind capable of demonstrating extraordinary proficiency in mathematics with a high degree of accuracy, however, the flipside is most do not find a conversation which often tends to be highly technical and digs deep into the minutia to be very relatable or enjoyable. I believe the word I am conveying is I tend to be boring at times, I often feel speaking to me is similar to the stereotypical representation of conversations with an accountant.
I often hear the phrase “The numbers don’t lie”, I have found that numbers when used to tell a story or provide descriptive statistic can and will lie on occasion. I find the books written by Malcom Gladwell to be very enjoyable to read and entertaining, however, it is an example of when numbers are utilized selectively to tell an inaccurate, incomplete, or biased to fit within the message or story being conveyed.
What do you like most about this industry?
When I started my career in the industry, it was the normal course of business to write notes on cards which were stored in a rolodex style container. Now I would describe most participants as being a technologically company in the call center space which happens to specialize in collecting debt. The industry continues to experience rapid advancement in the technology we utilize, I expect we will see some amazing advancements in the communication channels from emerging technologies available in the near future. I think it would be hard to get excited about being involved in an antiquated industry with no real prospect of advancement, I love learning new information and there is no shortage of that currently being required.
What is one thing you wish you could change about this industry?
There are several industry associations which provide a huge benefit to the industry participants, more importantly, nearly everyone involved is a VOLUNTEER who is using their time to work on advancing, promoting, and protecting the rights of the entire industry. It is disheartening to see individuals not register for a conference and take advantage of the networking benefit but not willing to pay the price of admission.
Without the virtually unrecognized hard work of those behind the scenes, the networking opportunities would not be available nor the ability to properly defend the rights of the industry. I would hope everyone could recognize these associations require the support of the industry participants to provide benefit back to our community. We all receive value by having associations which deliver benefits stretching well beyond the number of new opportunities or contacts garnered at a conference, they are returned in the forms of education, information aggregation, defense, and industry advancement simply to name a few. Showing up to claim the benefits but failing to provide support in return shortchanges the entire industry’s future, if the weight of new opportunities is the only perspective currently used to justify providing support, I enthusiastically urge those individuals to consider changing their vantage point to gain sight of the bigger picture.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
I would love to say something totally awesome but in reality, I would most likely have employment along the lines of an accountant, statistician, or actuary.
Describe a typical work day.
I am not sure if this “mythical” typical work day exists, I would seriously not know where to begin when considering how to merely attempt providing a description.
What is your guilty pleasure?
That would be monster rehab orangeade tea, but is it really a guilty pleasure when I do not feel guilty? I guess if there was something makes me feel a bit guilty at times, I like to joke around with people with dry humor and a straight face, I find it funny when you see someone attempting to figure out if you are joking or not.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The President of a company I was employed at a long time ago sat me down and asked me how much he paid me? I thought he was joking, he knew what I was being paid, but he continued by asking once again, how much do I pay you? I responded with the hourly wage, and he quickly asked the follow up question, do you know why you get paid that amount of money? I remember that I was relatively new to the company and a tad little confused by the question, so I responded, because that is what you pay people starting at your company? He looked at me for a moment and shook his head slightly signifying my answer was incorrect.
The response at this point was the piece of advice provided which changed my belief system:
He responded, the reason you get paid that amount of money is that is what you believe your time is worth, you get paid the amount in which you value your time. The good thing about this company is you can make whatever you want, you just have to go get it yourself, no one will simply provide it to you with no effort on your part. The value in the opportunity you have will be proportionate to what you put in, you get to ultimately decide how much your time is worth.
What are you currently reading?
I am fascinated by machine learning technologies, I am currently reading a book series which covers linear algebra for machine learning, algorithms, time series forecasting, short term memory networks, and deep learning.
If there is anyone interested, I am thinking about starting a book club!
What is one fact you’d like everyone in the industry to know about you?
I believe anyone who knows me personally would be likely to say it may be an understatement describing myself as an ultra-competitive person, it’s not a lie, I like to win. However, I view the industry we share in participation as a community, I am always willing to provide assistance or describe how we operate.
There are two diametrically opposing views I have witnessed from individuals in the industry, either everyone outside of the organization is competition and their methods of operating are “Top Secret Information” and those who find value in collaborating and sharing with others.
I look at it from two different scenarios, it is possible that I may get Bill Belichick(ed)! However, I can have all the Gordon Ramsay recipes in existence, I still won’t be able to prepare a meal like he does.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I really should not call people out like that, but I am going to anyway, I would really like to see either Amanda Gilbert or Will Turner answer these questions.