Bill Bartmann's story - from bankrupt to billionaire - The CFS Story

Bill’s Story

Bill Bartmann's Story

Bill Bartmann grew up in poverty and first saw the debt-collection business from the perspective of watching his father being hounded day and night by bill collectors. In fact, his dad died of a heart attack one night, right after a bill collector called.

Bill put himself through college while working at a hog slaughterhouse. He went on to get a law degree and his practice specialized in consumer bankruptcy. Bill later got involved in real estate, oil drilling, and oil services.

While $1 million in debt from the collapse of oil prices and his pipe company, Bill bought the first portfolio of defaulted loans ever auctioned to the public by the FDIC.

Bill’s intimate knowledge of the shady practices of debt collectors (being broke himself) led him to try a different approach—he treated borrowers with dignity and respect. That first portfolio of loans yielded a relatively substantial return, and he was soon able to pay off his debt.

Bill and his wife Kathy formed Commercial Financial Services to buy more debt. Over the next 12 years the unique CFS approach of strictly ethical collection practices yielded the following:

  • The Nilson Report, an industry trade journal, called CFS the “largest, best-trained, and most profitable collection operation in the world.”
  • The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History has a permanent display on the technology CFS pioneered.
  • CFS became the very first company ever to do an investment-grade securitization of non-performing debt on Wall Street. Harvard Business School published a case study on its techniques.
  • CFS raised more than $3.1 billion from 120 different lenders for more than 180 separate transactions.
  • CFS made it to the “Inc. Magazine 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies” list four years in a row. The only company on that list ever to grow faster for longer was Microsoft.
  • BusinessWeek called CFS “one of the top 30 family-friendly companies in the United States.” Working Woman Magazine recognized CFS as “one of the top 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.” (This was not a yoga school but instead a debt-collection company.)

In 1998, tragedy struck when Bill’s former business partner made several unauthorized transactions and sent the company into bankruptcy after financing dried up. Bill’s former business partner told prosecutors that he had acted without Bill’s knowledge and the partner admitted his guilt. A jury unanimously cleared Bill on all counts.

Six and a half years after CFS was liquidated, the federal bankruptcy trustee issued his report which publicly acknowledged that “CFS was not a fraud.”

In fact, the CFS ethical collections business model had worked right up until the company closed. Because the amount of defaulted debt has continued to grow—and so has the need for ethical debt collection—Bill launched CFS II in July, 2010.

CFS II already is in the top 6 percent of debt collection companies in the U.S. in terms of size, and is growing rapidly. It has begun a site-selection process to create up to an additional 2,000 well-paying entry-level jobs in cities across the U.S.

The CFS Story

Watch "The CFS Story"

Watch as Bill shares the story about what happened at CFS in 1998 when Bill's former business partner committed fraud and sent the company into bankruptcy.

Although Bill's former business partner told the prosecutors that he had acted without Bill's knowledge, admitted his guilt and was sent to prison, the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, in the post-Enron business environment, indicted Bill.

Five years later, after a 2 month long trial where the government called 53 witnesses and produced over 1,000 exhibits, Bill rested his case without calling a single witness or producing a single exhibit. The jury unanimously acquitted Bill on all counts.

Ironically, 17 months after his acquittal and six and a half years after his company was liquidated, the Federal Bankruptcy Trustee issued his report which publicly acknowledged for the first time, "CFS was not a fraud".

Bill may be the only high school dropout who has:

Been named "National Entrepreneur of the Year" (Twice) by USA Today, NASDAQ, Inc. Magazine, Ernst & Young, and The Kauffman Foundation
Been inducted into the "Entrepreneur of the Year" Hall of Fame
Created novel financial instruments that are still being used on Wall Street
Had Harvard Business School use him as a case study
Been granted a permanent place in the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History
Been included in the Forbes Magazine list of the 400 Wealthiest Americans
Named as "One of the Top 100 Entrepreneurs of the Last 100 Years" by the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership,, and Apple Computer
Had his management techniques published in college text books and taught at universities across America
Been awarded the American Academy of Achievement's "Golden Plate Award for one of the 20th Century's Most Extraordinary Achievers" - an award previously bestowed upon five U.S. Presidents and three Nobel Prize winners
Accomplished the first "Investment Grade" Wall Street securitization of non-performing unsecured loans
Borrowed more than $3.1 billion from 120 different lenders for more than 180 separate transactions - all for privately-held startup companies
Acknowledged by the Nilson Report as having created the "Largest, Best Trained, and Most Efficient Debt Collection Operation in the World"
Acknowledged by BusinessWeek Magazine as "One of the Top 30 Family Friendly Companies" in the United States
Acknowledged by BusinessWeek Magazine as "One of the Best Entrepreneurs"
Lauded by Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas for his "Minority Enterprise Initiative"
Acknowledged by BusinessWeek Magazine as "One of the Top Ten Family Oriented Businesses In America"
Acknowledged by Working Woman Magazine as "One of the Top 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers"
Named one of the "Phoenix 50" by Success Magazine
Appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma to a four year term on the Board of "Oklahoma Futures"
©2012 Bill Bartmann. All Rights Reserved