The “Getting to Know” series is sponsored by Applied Innovation. Applied Innovation is helping to shape the future of accounts receivable management. Product development is driven by customer feedback, agency profitability and compliance and includes platforms addressing client portal access, document management, payment negotiation, Regulation E focused electronic payment authorizations and TCPA communication authorization platforms. Partner with a company who understands your business challenges and evolves to provide cutting edge technology to overcome those challenges and achieve success.
The accounts receivable management industry is full of people who found a home once they started working in it. More than a home, really. A purpose. Larry Baker is one of those types of people. Someone who may have been able to carve out a nice living if he had never started working in collections, but who has found his calling. And developed a killer talk-off, he says. Read on to learn more about Larry, the great advice he has received through the years, and the reason why he avoids spending time caught in traffic.
Name: Larry Baker
Current Role/Job Title: Vice President of Operations
Company: RGS Financial
Length of time at current company: It will be five years this September
Length of time in industry: 17 years – 15 years was spent in the student loan collections (primarily Department of Education) and just recently moved over to the 1st/3rd party side of the industry
How did you get your start in the industry?
I graduated college in December 2003, had a 2-year-old son, and needed a job. I worked at a steakhouse with friend who had been trying to get me to work at the collection agency with him. I am still not sure if he thought I could do the job, or he just wanted the referral bonus, but I finally decided to give it a try – mainly because I knew they dressed professional, and the hours were much better than being a server. At the time I would have never imagined I would be doing it 17 years later but couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.
What is your career highlight so far?
This is a tough question for me as nothing sticks out specifically. I would like to think it is the positive impact I have had on others in this industry.
When or how are you most productive?
Most successful people I read about or know personally are early risers and start their day ridiculously early. I tend to find myself most productive after lunch and into the night. I have some of my best ideas late at night and once I get started on something, I can be up working past midnight. It isn’t uncommon for people to get emails from me late at night.
Which industry professional do you admire most?
I admire so many people in the industry and have been extremely fortunate to have so many great mentors throughout my career. Junior Sanchez taught me so much and put me on the path to be successful but the person I would have to say I admire the most would be Becky Dillon. There is nobody like her in the industry. She has such high expectations of her team, but you won’t find somebody who cares about their staff as much as she does. She goes above and beyond for the people that work for her.
What is one thing you do better than everyone else?
I am not sure I do anything better than anyone else but try to do all the little things well. I think consistency is the key. With that being said, I do think I have a pretty good talk off …
What do you like most about this industry?
This isn’t an industry anybody ever thinks of when they are growing up. I have never heard anyone say they want to be a “bill collector” when they grow up. My favorite part of the industry would have to be the opportunities it creates for people who might not have had a clear-cut plan for their life. This industry does not care who you know or how you grew up. Many if not all the people in management, executive, or ownership roles started on the phones and had to put in the work to learn the business and work themselves up.
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What is one thing you wish you could change about this industry?
The negative perception the industry tends to have. This industry has changed so much just in the 17 years I have been in it, but I feel like it still carries a negative stigma at times. I strongly believe most of the agencies out there make it a priority to treat consumers with respect and professionalism. The goal is to help as many consumers get out of a bad situation as possible without making them feel bad about it. We work very hard at RGS to help put a positive spin on the collections industry by treating consumers the way we would like to be treated and truly help them improve their situation.
If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
I would probably be selling real estate or be doing something else in the finance world – maybe a financial adviser.
Describe a typical work day.
My routine has changed quite a bit since the pandemic and the hybrid work from home schedule. I start my morning by checking/replying to my emails. After getting caught up on my emails, I will review all they daily reports from the previous day and address anything that sticks out. I make necessary adjustments to my day after reviewing the daily KPIs . Next, I try to get a quick workout in either punching the boxing bag for a few rounds or lifting weights – usually for about 45 minutes or so. I leave for the office about 9:15 every morning to avoid traffic – I hate wasting production hours being in traffic and I am not ready to leave early enough to beat the traffic. I typically have weekly client calls, leadership meetings, or production meetings that start at 10am. I usually get a break later in the day that I make it a point to step away from my desk to eat lunch – usually in the breakroom with the agents and rest of the team. I try to get a game of pool in with some of the team members before finishing up my day. I don’t usually leave the office until 7pm. I always make time to listen to random calls from the current or previous day to get a good feel for how we are treating our consumers, areas for opportunities in our talk off, and to identify agents doing something good so I can acknowledge them the following day. It isn’t uncommon for me to think of something I missed during the day on my drive home which I will complete after I have dinner.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I am at the ball fields most weekends playing competitive slow-pitch softball in the summer and try to spend as much time as possible on a mountain snowboarding during the winter. I am a firm believer in the “work hard/play hard” motto and do a pretty good job and separating the two. I am not sure these would qualify as a “guilty pleasure” so to properly answer the question, I am bad when it comes to binge-watching an entire series in a very short period of time.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I have received a ton of great advice and it is hard to pinpoint the “best”. I can provide three pieces of advice I received at different times in my career that really helped me get to where I am today.
I was in my early 20’s when I started in this industry and was probably spending too much time at the bars spending my bonus money. My first mentor called me in the office and gave me a lecture telling me how talented I was and listed qualities I had that could help me be wildly successful in this industry. Long story short, he ended the conversation by saying “in 10 years from now, the bars will still be there – likely with the same people in them that are there now but all the opportunities you have in front of you right now won’t be. You are going to have to decide where you want to be in 10 years from now.” This spoke volumes to me and really put me in the right direction.
The next memorable advice I got was early in my management career. I was at the same company for several years at the time and was comfortable where I was. I had a good relationship with a business owner in the industry who offered me position. It was a great opportunity, but it was unknown to me, and it would change my whole life. After discussing this with a mentor, he told me “If you never take a chance, you never had a chance”. I ended up taking the position which ended up putting me on the path to where I am now.
The last piece of advice that has forever stuck with me was after I took over my first director level position. I was overly ambitious and wanted to change everything at once. I was clearly overwhelmed although I didn’t really know it at the time. I reached out to my mentor explaining my situation and all the areas of opportunity I identified, and he told me “Slow down. You are not going to be able to change everything at once. You must identify the one thing you can change that will have the biggest impact and start there. After you succeed there and show positive results, the rest is downhill.” I haven’t quite mastered this yet, but it is advice I received several years ago that I still revert to.
What are you currently reading?
“The Ride of a Lifetime” by Robert Iger for the second time. It is so good and highly recommend it to everybody.
What is one fact you’d like everyone in the industry to know about you?
I didn’t get to where I am by myself and am forever grateful to the many mentors I was fortunate to cross paths with at the perfect time.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I would like to see Dejuan Renfroe, our VP of Compliance, do this.
The “Getting to Know” series is sponsored by Applied Innovation. Applied Innovation is helping to shape the future of accounts receivable management. Product development is driven by customer feedback, agency profitability and compliance and includes platforms addressing client portal access, document management, payment negotiation, Regulation E focused electronic payment authorizations and TCPA communication authorization platforms. Partner with a company who understands your business challenges and evolves to provide cutting edge technology to overcome those challenges and achieve success