The Chicago based Bonded Collection Corporation, a 2012 Hollis Cobb Associates acquisition, bids a fond, but rather sad farewell at the end of this week to beloved employee, Sandra (Sandi) Kowalec. Born and raised in Chicago, Sandi started her career in collections right out of high school, joining Bonded in September 1967. Bonded was a very young company at that time, Sandi noted. Current owner, Ken Rubin, “was just a little tike back then,” she laughed. Sandi was hired by Ken’s father, Remy Rubin, and even knew Ken’s grandfather, Peter, who started the company over five decades ago.
Fond Memories of Days Gone By
Sandi started at Bonded as a bookkeeper, noting that, “Everything was manual back then. There were no computers and the calculators were huge!” She recalled how the company got its first computers in the early 80s, but they were “dumb terminals,” Sandi said, adding that “there was still no such thing as email or the internet, and no FDCPA.” She remembered how the collectors had work cards on which they made written notes with follow up dates, and the cards were stored in specially designed bins. Employees mailed individually typed letters and written post cards to consumers as payment reminders. Sandi went on to lament, “Today people complain about computers when the system is down. They don’t realize how far we have come.”
Bonded started out as a company that handled transportation accounts, Sandi said, explaining that healthcare accounts came later. Sandi moved from her bookkeeping position to work with Bonded attorneys on railroad and truck line accounts. She went on to become a customer service manager, and auditor and eventually a collection manager. Sandi said that the collection manager position was the most stressful, and she was happy when in 2004 the railroad and motor carrier businesses grew to the extent that she was able to return to the Legal Department. “I am proud of how we developed the legal department at Bonded,” Sandi said. At that time, she explained the company began working on bank debt in which consumers had moved to foreign countries. Bonded developed a network of attorneys in other countries and were able to make settlements for clients who otherwise would not have received any of their money. “The diversity of the clients made the job interesting,” she said, “and that is why I stayed so long.”
Compliance was not the hot button issue that it is today, Sandi recalled. There were no background checks on employees. She laughingly remembered many years ago when one new employee was late returning from his lunch break. Other employees watching television at lunchtime saw the tardy employee on the news. He had robbed a jewelry store during his lunch break, and had subsequently been apprehended by police and arrested. Needless to say, the employee was not welcome back at Bonded. Hiring standards and background checks are much more stringent now, and as a result, there have been no more robbers hired at Bonded. “There have been some other crazy stories along the way,” Sandi said, “so crazy that I might write a book.” Co-workers presented her with a large notebook and challenged her to start writing.
From Snow to Sun
Sandi plans to move to Arizona to be closer to her brother and sister-in-law. “I am tired of the cold winters, and humid weather in Chicago,” she said, adding that “I am going to Arizona to sit by the pool in the hot sun.” She already has an apartment in Phoenix, and although she will miss her co-workers at Bonded, Sandi looks forward to relaxing, soaking up the sun and maybe writing that book.