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Firm overcomes public misconceptions in competitive industry.

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[Dave Veale’s interview with Tom Creamer, President & CEO, Eastern Credit Management Services.]

Tom Creamer, president and chief executive officer of Eastern Credit Management Services, is a straight shooter. He doesn’t mince words as he tells me about how he values his family, his community and his business.

I would bet that his candid approach is what makes him successful in the credit management and debt collection business. It has perhaps also served him well as the eldest son of nine siblings.

Tom and his wife and business partner, Nancy, always wanted to be in business for themselves. When Nancy’s father approached them in 1982 about buying the collection division of the Credit Bureau of Saint John they were excited by the opportunity. Being pragmatic, they took a year to evaluate the business and determined that the potential was good. They purchased the company in 1983 and never looked back.

In 2008, a large credit management company in Europe bought Tom and Nancy out, only to approach them in 2010 to see if they were interested in reacquiring the company.

“Opportunity knocked again so Nancy and I bought the company back,” says Tom.

[Tweet “Opportunity knocked again so Nancy and I bought the company back. – Tom Creamer”]

From that point on Eastern Credit Management Services has grown to be one of the largest independent agencies in Atlantic Canada.

I began our conversation by asking Tom about the business environment in his industry over the last three decades.

Q: What has changed in your 28 years in business?

A: The industry has changed significantly. In 1983 there were five collection agencies in Saint John. By 1988 we were the only one. Today we’ve got competition calling in from the United States and other areas of Canada.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about your industry?

A: Most people think that a bunch of thugs work in a collection agency, and 20 years ago, that really bothered me. I got over it quickly because I know the good people who we’ve got working here. Our company has won awards and our people contribute a lot to the local community. Like any other business, there are bad collectors. There are also bad lawyers, doctors and so on. There are some bad collection outfits out there that harass and do unethical things. That’s not how we run our business.

[Tweet “Most people think that a bunch of thugs work in a collection agency. – Tom Creamer”]

Q: How do you feel about this perception?

A: I’m very sensitive and I’m very proud of what we do and of what we, along with our employees, have turned the company into. So when somebody says something negative about the company or the industry, my defenses go up.

[Tweet “Negative comments make my defenses go up. – Tom Creamer”]

Q: When you look back over the last 28 years, was there ever a period where you needed to persevere and move forward despite facing big obstacles?

A: In 1991 we automated the company for the first time. It was a huge investment. We took on a national franchise and the two companies that partnered on this were very successful national companies. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get along and they ended the relationship after two years and left us holding the bag. It was a huge investment for us at that time and it took a few years to pay for that mistake.

Q: How did this experience impact your business?

A: Rather than litigate, Nancy and I decided to focus on growing the company – to move ahead and chalk it up to experience. It was a huge challenge but if that hadn’t happened we probably would never be where we are today. We decided we would never partner with anyone on this type of venture again.

Q: What stopped you from taking legal action?

A: In the end maybe we would have won the litigation, but we would have risked everything. Instead we moved ahead in a positive fashion and turned that negative energy into positive energy and grew our company. We didn’t look back. We just kept going.

Q: Are there other challenges you deal with on a more regular basis?

A: It’s difficult in our industry to find good, experienced people. A lot of companies don’t have credit managers so it’s hard to pull in people with experience.

Q: What is the best part of being in business with your wife?

A: Well, I trust her. I don’t know any one thing that would define that we’ve been married for 34 years and we’ve worked together for 33. What’s made it successful is that we both have clearly defined roles and we very rarely cross over. She counts on me and I count on her.

[Tweet “I trust her. She counts on me and I count on her. – Tom Creamer”]

Q: What’s the hardest part about working together?

A: It’s going home at night and not talking shop all the time. We work hard at not talking shop – sometimes that’s very hard.

Q: As you look over your career and your business life, is there someone who has been an inspiration for you?

A: There’s always somebody that inspires you to operate the way you do. For me it would be my father and Nancy’s father. My father passed away long before we started in business but he always treated people properly and we’ve carried that on. Nancy’s father, Arnie, was very successful in business – we bought the collection side from his company. He was a very hard worker and very well respected in the community.

[Tweet “My father always treated people properly and we’ve carried that on. – Tom Creamer”]

Q: Can you finish the following sentence? A leader’s job is to …

A: Inspire people and make good decisions to carry the company forward.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter @Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca .

Pulished in the Telegraph Journal 06/14/2012

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