Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Hunter Warfield brings a light touch to debt collection

TAMPA

Neal Dessauer has heard it all. The profanities, the obscenities, the long tirades and the tearful pleas. And the whoppers. Oh, the things people will say when they owe money.

"People will tell you that they're dead," he said.

A quick Internet search, though, usually disproves that. Dessauer will then call them back and politely point that, legally at least, they're still very much alive.

"They usually hang up on you at that point," he said.

Welcome to the world of debt collection.

Dessauer, 45, has been at it for eight years, and he believes there's no other collections firm he'd want to work for than Hunter Warfield. In a field that can lack professionalism, compassion and even business sense, Dessauer said Hunter Warfield does it right.

"This is the best collection agency I have ever worked for," he said. "Bar none."

Hunter Warfield is making its first appearance in the Tampa Bay Times' employee survey of Top Workplaces. The firm was born in 2005, after the owners of the Pierce Hamilton & Stern Inc. collection agency in Bethesda, Md., decided to go their separate ways. A third of the company's workers relocated to Tampa to operate as Hunter Warfield.

It is a high-end collections firm that collects debts on behalf of upscale apartment complexes, handling accounts that can owe hundreds to thousands.

"Some clients will allow us to make deals or settle the debt and some won't," said Jonathan Juchnevics, the vice president of human resources. "But we try our hardest to work out an amicable resolution to satisfy both the debtor and the client."

The company acts as a third-party collections agency. That means it doesn't buy debts, so it's under less pressure to collect. It has time to slowly — through letters, then repeated phone calls — explain the reality of the situation to debtors and convince them to pay up.

"We don't have that urgency," said Juchnevics, 33. "We want to do well for our clients, but we will absolutely not resort to any unethical or unfair tactics to strong-arm money for our clients."

Debt collection, though, is stressful for those who do the collecting. Hunter Warfield works to alleviate that stress. The company only handles those who can deal with it: mostly veteran debt collectors, but they make sure the rookies have mentors. Their insurance provider covers mental health counseling.

There are also company barbecues and a huge break room, stocked with leather sofas, big-screen TVs and computers employees can use for personal reasons. Employees get quarterly reviews instead of annually.

They can also win gift cards daily and are rewarded if the company's goals are met. Last year employees and their families went to Walt Disney World.

But that can only smooth the rough edges of the business. In the end, collectors have to deal with the hardships on their own.

Dessauer uses his sense of humor — after the call. He can't yell during the call, but he can make fun of people afterward. He also uses an alias and perspective.

"You have to learn how to deal with it, otherwise you can't do this job," he said. "You will be called nasty names. But for the most part, the reason why people get that way is they're not angry at you — they're angry because of the position they're in."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.

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