Merchants Credit Adjusters

An Interview with Mr. David Truckenbrod, Owner and President of Merchants Credit Adjusters, Inc.
By Nasser Aljooyidan, Keith Kepplin & John Weiss, Creighton University MBA students

Merchants Credit Adjusters, Inc. was established in 1919 by Mr. William Keebler. Since that time, when it was common to receive payments in goods or services, the technology, regulations and methods have evolved. Today Merchants Credit Adjusters, or MCA, specializes in medical billing services, early out collection services, and the collection of delinquent accounts receivable. MCA leads the industry in collection technology, collector training, and high ethical standards. MCA assists clients throughout the Midwest region. MCA and Mr. David Truckenbrod, who is the current owner and president, were recently honored to win the prestigious 2011 Better Business Bureau Integrity award. During our interview we enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the ethical culture that Mr. Truckenbrod fosters within MCA, ethics in general, how his personal values system has developed, and advice for upcoming generations. It is evident as soon as one enters the building that ethics and integrity run deep within the organization. The company’s philosophy and values are posted on the walls as an outward expression of the culture of integrity that has been cultivated.

Background

Mr. Truckenbrod was raised in a small farming town in central Illinois where his grandfather opened a small refrigeration operation in the early 1930s. As refrigerators became more prevalent in the home, the store grew into a small family grocery store where David, the oldest of seven, spent time working throughout his early life. He went to a local community college after high school and expected to take over the store. However, he decided that he needed more experience so he moved to Omaha and began working for a national drug store chain, where he worked for 23 years. During that time Mr. Truckenbrod opened five new stores and managed several others. He realized though, after 20 years, that “he would not retire from there.” Indeed, after 23 years he left the drug store chain and purchased MCA.

Ethical and Moral Compass

Mr. Truckenbrod credits most of his personal values system and ethical core to his father and named his father as his greatest personal mentor. He pointed out to us during our interview that the only picture he has hanging in his office is one of his father. He credits his father, the influence of his family, and growing up in a small town with shaping and guiding his personal set of core values and ethical moral compass. He recalled a story in which his father caught an individual stealing. To his surprise his father did not press charges, but gave the man a job instead. His father rationalized that if the man was desperate enough to steal, then he needed a job to earn money to pay for it. This taught David that doing the right thing may mean going over and above rules and regulations.

Definition of Ethics

When asked about his definition of ethics and integrity, Mr. Truckenbrod defined it as, “in its simplest terms is moral soundness,” He went on to say that ethics is “a blend between knowing the differences between right and wrong...what we ought to do even when no one is looking ...and knowing one’s own ethical standards.” Mr. Truckenbrod believes that ethics continues to grow with a person as experiences and knowledge increase and figures people should continuously strive to learn and grow in their ethical standards and moral com pass. He demonstrates this as he continuously cultivates the culture of ethics and challenges his people to grow in integrity within his organization. He went on to say that organizations and those leading them “should ensure the institutions we help to shape live up to high ethical standards that are sol idly based.” MCA has four core values that are visible everywhere within the organization. Integrity is listed as one the organization’s four core values and the stated description for that core value is “we do what we say we’ll do.” Interestingly, during our interview, these four core values were scrolling across Mr. Truckenbrod’s computer screen as a screen saver, demonstrating how much a part of the culture ethics and moral values penetrate daily routine and the daily culture of the organization. Mr. Truckenbrod acknowledges that there was a strong ethical culture in place and he was able to shape it from that strong foundation.

Experiences with Ethics

We asked Mr. Truckenbrod to share a personal experience of an ethical situation which was relatively easy for him to handle. In the collections business, Mr. Truckenbrod explained a daily ethical decision when “reviewing a client’s work standard and making the one extra call they requested when working through their implementation process—how would they know if we did or did not?” In this example, the organization may need to take an extra step versus what may be normal as a part of the agreement with the client. However, there is no way for the client to know whether they are or aren’t fulfilling this obligation; therefore, the ethical culture must drive everyone to perform it, just as he described in his definition, “to do what we ought to do even when no one is looking.”Mr. Truckenbrod also explained that the end result will demonstrate their ethics. In this case, the strong culture of ethics, cultivated over time, creates a culture that is “self monitoring” in these types of situations and the results, in the end, preserve the reputation and trustworthiness of the organization with the client.Subsequently, we asked about an ethical situation that was more difficult to deal with. Mr. Truckenbrod then described his philosophy and ethics as it relates to his marketing and prospecting new clients. He said that one of the toughest ethical challenges he deals with is speaking to prospective new clients about placing their business with MCA. In so doing, Mr. Truckenbrod said he strives to be sure that he presents only the

reasons to choose MCA, giving the prospect “only the facts” rather than speaking poorly of a competitor, the company they are currently using. He mentioned that his value set causes him to focus solely on the efforts, skills, personnel, and results that MCA can provide while not discussing the competitor or current provider, even if it means not gaining the new business. He said he would be able to sleep well knowing he has done the right thing. It is evident that, even at the risk of losing the prospect, he will not compromise his ethics concerning how he approaches competitors during discussions with new prospects. Mr. Truckenbrod also described how earlier in his career he had witnessed a manager whose style was abusive and demeaning and who he confronted regarding this behavior. This was another example of standing upon his values and ethics even when it may have meant negative consequences but was “the right thing to do.”

Culture

It is quite evident that there is a deep culture of ethics and moral soundness that penetrates to every level of the organization. In a business that possesses a public perception of negative ethics and low morals, MCA strives to lead the industry in this area. There are four core values that guide the organization:

The culture at MCA has led to using softer language in much of the correspondence to debtors versus industry standard, a different moral approach to soliciting a new client and charity and charitable programs that MCA has developed. In fact, the ethical culture at MCA has spilled over into their moral concern for community in general which led them to institute the “presumptive charity” program to help insure that those individuals that really need charity receive it. Mr. Truckenbrod said that he works with the clients individually to develop guidelines to determine accounts that qualify for the charity program. He also insists upon a culture of ethics that rises higher than industry standards, rules or regulations. This culture is so deeply engrained that it has be come self monitoring, leading associates to truly conduct them selves according to the ethical standard even when no one is looking. The philosophies, core values, and ethical ideals are visible everywhere, and as Mr. Truckenbrod said, “the evidence or proof is in the results.” He person ally developed the ethics hand book and the four core values for the company when he purchased it and guides the organization in this area through procedures and policies, but also through “unwritten rules,” and his personal example. The continued growth and vitality of the company is positively influenced by Mr. Truckenbrod’s ethics and is also recognized by earning the prestigious BBB Integrity award this year. In association with the award, Mr. Truckenbrod was asked what running a debt collection agency with integrity means. He responded, “It means not only following the regulated guidelines for the debt collection agency, but going a step beyond and ensuring we act with integrity in all areas of business – from the person who opens the mail to the Senior Management team. This means creating a culture in the company that up holds the highest ethical standards. It requires constant monitoring and consistent training. We will always act with honesty, fairness, and compassion by doing what we say, doing it right and on time. We are who we say we are.”

During our interview, Mr. Truckenbrod mentioned that MCA, as a smaller company, embraces the idea of family which allows them to build relationships that foster high ethical and moral standards among the associates by working through dilemmas together, both personally and professionally. Supporting this philosophy, Mr. Truckenbrod told us that, to him, the greatest asset at MCA is the people, and “essentially, debt col lection is people working with people to find a common solution, and therefore, our employees are our most valuable asset.” He cited the fact that MCA has a relatively low turnover in an industry known for high turnover and he credits that to this philosophy and the culture that has been built at MCA.

Balance

Sometimes there’s a philosophy of cutting ethics short in order to make a profit; some may even think that no profit can be made if it comes down to an ethical decision and ethics is the choice. We asked Mr. Truckenbrod how he balances profit with ethics. He said that he strongly believes that a culture of high ethical standards actually generates profit. He said that in his industry, among other companies, there is a very high turnover rate, and he believes having a strong culture of ethics, high moral compass, and a culture of family, contributes to very low turnover at MCA. People feel secure and confident in such an environment and trust that the company will always do the right thing, so they stay. We observed very positive interpersonal relations when some of his staff inter acted with him as Mr. Truckenbrod introduced us to them. During the interview he said,

He went on to say that since MCA doesn’t spend a lot of time training new associates, they can spend time on continual improvement and the staff, which stays, gets better and better and that drives profits up. So, a culture of ethics creates an environment of safety and security and confidence among the employees thus helping to reduce turnover dramatically at MCA. Mr. Truckenbrod immediately drew this correlation between ethical culture and increased prof its. He further went on to explain that, especially in the collections industry, “it’s sometimes challenging, in that, finding a grey area may be the best scenario and every „for profit‟ business has to be looking at the bottom line; how ever, you must have confidence that once you build trust with a client, that trust becomes your best advertising tool to gain and retain clients which obviously builds revenue and profit.”

Challenges

We asked Mr. Truckenbrod what some challenges are that his industry is facing currently. He said, “Both business and consumer technologies are advancing at a pace never before seen. There are so many different forms of communication now that a balance must be found that utilizes these different forms of communication

while not treading on the rights of the individual.” He went on to draw an interesting paradox regarding the debt collection agency in that the industry contributes more than $40 billion dollars annually back into the economy, yet the public perception of the industry, due to the nature of the business, retains a negative public perception. The paradox is that the economic contribution is substantial to the economy. Along these same lines, when we asked Mr. Truckenbrod what he felt were some ethical challenges facing business as a whole today, particularly in the Omaha region, he right away mentioned that with the cur rent state of the economy, “tough times sometimes lead to shortcuts in business practices and ethics and someone usually suffers as a result.” He noted the strong ethical culture in Omaha, spotlighted through such awareness activities as the BBB Integrity Awards and the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance, as well as that Omaha has fared better than many cities during the recent economic difficulty. Perhaps one could draw a conclusion that an entire business com munity could show improved business results when there is a strong culture of ethics in place led by a strong ethical leader.

Legacy

Considering Mr. Truckenbrod’s success, high ethical standards and moral compass, we were very interested to know what he thought the ethical challenges are facing today’s younger professionals, and what his advice was to them in the area of ethics and business. Mr. Truckenbrod said he felt that among the challenges facing younger professionals, one challenge is handling a difficult ethical dilemma or situation when it may compromise their standards and morals but also potentially diminish their real or perceived ability to

be promoted and maintain upward mobility. He reflected that with out experience in knowing that doing the right thing always works out for the better result can cause a younger professional to compromise, and in the end the result is worse than had they stood upon their morals and done the right thing. So, his advice to young professionals today naturally followed this thought advising that young professionals “hold firm to a high moral compass and ethical standard such as honesty, trust, fairness, and compassion throughout a career” and ultimately these qualities will become valuable assets in career growth and upward mobility in a company that values these things, which in the end is where one would want to work and grow.

Reflection

It was very evident that Mr. Truckenbrod, partially by design and partly because it is part of the core of his being, has built a highly successful company in an industry with negative public perception. His success is built upon a culture of high moral values, high ethical standards, and a high value of people. These values are evident in how the company inter acts with its competitors, clients, employees, and those they call to collect upon. He directly credits the financial success of the company to these virtues, and under his leadership the culture of ethics has become so engrained it is now self monitoring and all employees seek to live up to the core values in all that they do. They truly live out, "We are who we say we are and we will always act in the highest ethical standards."