More About the Author
I was one of eight children. My father was janitor and mother cleaned houses for a living. I dropped out of school to join a traveling carnival at 14, and later upgraded to a street gang. While homeless I lived under bridge viaducts and in haylofts, and ate out of dumpsters.
I became alcoholic by age 17. The Marine Corps rejected me due to poor hearing. One night while drunk I fell down a flight of stairs, crushing parts of my spine. I became paraplegic and my doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I would never walk again. It's a long story but I ended up walking out of the hospital on my own two feet.
I soon got a job on the "kill floor" at a hog slaughterhouse. While there I organized a wildcat strike to demand benefits for us part-timers, and was successful. Also while working at the slaughterhouse, I ran into the principal who earlier had kicked me out of high school. He inspired me to get my GED, which I did.
It's another long story, but I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree, and eventually got my law degree. I immediately went into private practice, specializing in consumer bankruptcy. Later I got involved in real estate investing, and became quite successful, whereupon I got involved in oil drilling and lost my shirt. While broke, I was asked to take over an oil pipe company and I again became a millionaire--until Saudi Arabia flooded the market with oil and the price crashed.
While $1 million in debt from the collapse of the oil business and my pipe company, I bought the first portfolio of defaulted loans ever auctioned to the public by the FDIC.
My intimate knowledge (being bankrupt myself) of the shady practices of debt collectors led me to try a different approach--I treated borrowers with dignity and respect. That first portfolio of loans yielded a relatively substantial return, and I began to pay off my $1 million debt. I bought more loan portfolios and shortly thereafter I was able to pay off the debt.
I could see a tidal wave of these portfolios becoming available first from the FDIC, and later from the Resolution Trust Corporation after the savings & loan crisis. At the same time, our ethical collection practices were yielding substantial profit margins. As a result, I focused on three things in order to gain market share as quickly as possible. The following is a summary of our results:
People--An industry trade journal called us the "largest, best-trained, and most profitable collection operation in the world."
Systems--The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History has a permanent display on the technology we pioneered.
Financing--My company 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 our techniques.
In fact, we went on to raise more than $3.1 billion from 120 different lenders for more than 180 separate transactions. We were acknowledged by Business Week as "one of the top 30 family-friendly companies in the United States." We made it to the "Inc. Magazine 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies" list four years in a row. "Working Woman Magazine" recognized us as "One of the top 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers". (We were not a yoga school but instead a debt-collection company.)
Then came the crash: Without my knowledge my business partner engaged in several transactions with our company for his own personal benefit. An employee noticed these transactions and rather than take them to me or to the auditors, he chose to send an anonymous letter to one of the investment rating agencies.
When the rating agency called me about the letter, I commenced an energetic investigation and soon determined that my business partner had in fact executed the transactions. I held a press conference to explain exactly what we knew of the transactions, how my business partner admitted that he had acted alone, and how the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency would conduct an even more thorough investigation.
Even so, I immediately became the subject of suspicion: "How could Bartmann not have known? He was a hands-on executive who built the company from the ground up." Wall Street backed away and our financing sources instantly dried up.
The SEC and FBI conducted separate investigations and found no wrongdoing by my company or by me. They concluded that the unauthorized transactions were limited to my business partner. Not one but two grand juries concluded there was no basis for charges after investigating the facts.
Nevertheless, in the post-Enron atmosphere, the federal government decided to take the case out of the state's hands, and indict me on 57 felony counts representing 600 years in prison if convicted. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally held a news conference, assuring the public that the government's case was rock-solid against me.
The lead prosecution attorney had been taken off his prior case--to prosecute Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian mass murderer--so that he could now prosecute me.
The government presented its case against me, calling 53 witnesses and lasting 89 days. I chose not to call a single witness and not to present any case for the defense. The jury found me not guilty on all counts. Later the bankruptcy trustee for my former company publicly admitted "There was no fraud at CFS."
Nevertheless, even though my name was cleared I was bankrupt. My assets had been seized and disposed of through an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding, and my motions had been denied to stay those proceedings until the criminal trial was over.
My long and interesting business career has given me a unique perspective: I'm aware of no other slaughterhouse worker or street-gang member ever to have become a billionaire. I'm also something of an authority on surviving bankruptcy and other forms of failure.
I therefore channeled that knowledge and my energies into helping other entrepreneurs to overcome whatever barriers they're up against. I created Bill Bartmann Enterprises, through which I've offered courses, materials, and live events on entrepreneurship and achieving goals.
When the 2008 banking crisis resulted in the federal government bailout of banks, I recognized the same pattern of events that had made me a billionaire the first time around: The government was requiring banks to dispose of assets deemed "toxic" to banks but those assets had residual value to others knowledgeable enough to extract it.
I wrote a book, Bailout Riches, which was published by Wiley in June 2009 and which became a #1 world-wide bestseller on Amazon. It described the current opportunity to capitalize on the enormous wave of defaulted debt available today.
Then after seeing all the deceit and immoral practices in my industry, I wrote the Out of Control, an insiders view of debt collector abuse in America.
Today my work continues as a strive every day to reform the debt collection industry and help raise up those in our society who, through no fault of their own, are struggling with debt.