"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search

Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/156165000/person/182063829692/facts?_phsrc=yl21987664&_phstart=successSource


BARTMANN, William. (Dubuque, IA, Oct. 23, 1948--Tulsa, OK, Nov. 29, 2016) In October 2013, Bouncing Back the autobiography of Bill Bartmann's life was published (Brown Books) detailing his life story from homelessness and abject poverty to Nobel Peace prize nominee. The book became an Amazon #1 best seller. (1)

At the age of fourteen, Bartmann dropped out of high school and joined a traveling carnival. He later joined a gang called the Manor Boys. He attempted to join the Marines, but was rejected for hearing problems. He became an alcoholic by age 17, and one night fell down a flight of stairs while drunk. He became paralyzed and was told that he would never walk again. Against his doctor's wishes, Bartmann began a nightly regimen of physical activity until he eventually regained the use of his legs.

For several years Bartmann worked at the DUBUQUE PACKING COMPANY. While there, he organized a wildcat strike to force the company to give benefits to part-time workers. The strike was successful. Around this time, Bartmann met a high school principal who earlier had expelled him from school. The principal challenged Bartmann to get his GED certificate. Bartmann later earned a BS from LORAS COLLEGE and a JD from Drake University.

After passing the Iowa Bar exam, Bartmann went into private practice, specializing in consumer law. He also invested in real estate and moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma. Bartmann was later asked by a local bank to take over a struggling oil equipment company in Oklahoma. He turned the company around and grew it substantially. It folded in 1985 due to falling oil prices, with Bartmann one million dollars in debt due to personally guaranteeing some of the corporate obligations.

After seeing an advertisement in a newspaper about buying defaulted loans from the federal government, he bought a portfolio of loans, financed by the bank to which he was $1 million in debt. Bartmann succeeded in collecting enough money from that first portfolio to recoup the cost of the portfolio, plus make a partial repayment on his bank debt. More purchases of loan portfolios allowed him to repay the entire $1 million obligation.

In 1986 he established Commercial Financial Services, a debt-collection firm that, according to his obituary, did not use "litigation as a collection methodology." According to an article in Forbes, CFS committed to buy any charged-off debt from Chase and other banks, offering far more than what anyone else would pay. It hired thousands of collectors, who sat at desks on 51 floors of the Citiplex Towers on the edge of Tulsa and called people all day long, trying to get them to pay up, using a system dubbed “sweet as peaches” that involved a sort of hectoring friendship rather than expensive lawsuits.

By 1997 CFS owned what Bartmann claimed was half the nation’s delinquent credit card debt, then worth $15 billion at face value. Bartmann said his company paid an average of 10 cents on the dollar for loans and returned 31 cents to investors. (2) The strategy was successful; he was able to help 4.5 million consumers resolve $15 billion in debt, all without ever suing a consumer while producing net margins, it was claimed, as high as 48%.

By 1997, Bartmann was listed in Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest people in America. Inc. magazine estimated Bartmann's net worth to be in the range of $2.4 to $3.5 billion. Goldman Sachs offered to buy a 20% stake in his company; Norwest Bank offered to acquire the entire company. Bartmann refused both offers.

As the company grew, Bartmann challenged his staff to beat their performance goals to earn a trip. When they exceeded the target, Bartmann flew the entire company to Las Vegas. On another occasion, he leased 27 Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets to fly thousands of employees to Disney World for the weekend. CFS offered free on-site daycare that grew to care for 500 children, as well as free full health care and a 250% company match in its 401(k) program. BusinessWeek magazine called CFS "one of the top 10 family-oriented businesses in America" and Working Mother Magazine named it "ne of the top 100 best companies for working mothers."

In 1998 Harvard Business School published a case study on the methods Commercial Financial Services used to "securitize" non-performing debt. The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History awarded CFS its Computer World award for technological innovations.

After his partner confessed to inflating collection rates at his agency, Bartmann lost his fortune, his company and his reputation. (3) The business declared bankruptcy in 1999, laid off 4,000 employees and went into receivership. He, however, was cleared of fraud charges. Bartmann came out of the trial as a consumer advocate.

In 2002, the governor appointed Bartmann to the board of Oklahoma Futures, a public-private partnership to advise the governor, legislature, and judiciary on ways to promote economic development in Oklahoma. The Senate confirmed Bartmann's nomination.

In 2003 Bartmann founded Bill Bartmann Enterprises to offer business training and information to entrepreneurs. In 2008 he noticed that the banking bailout and TARP subsidies presented an opportunity to buy defaulted debt from troubled banks, similar to the way he built Commercial Financial Services. Bartmann developed a series of training programs to enable individuals to buy portfolios of defaulted credit-card debt and then taught them how to collect without using litigation or other abusive behavior.

In 2009 Bartmann published a book, Bailout Riches, which described the opportunity he said the bank-bailout and recession of 2008-2010 created. The book became a #1 world-wide bestseller on Amazon, and also made it to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and BusinessWeek bestseller lists. Bill Bartmann Enterprises was named for the fifth time to the "Inc. 500" for 2009.

Bartmann re-established his former consumer financial recovery company, naming the successor business, CFS2, in July 2010. CFS2 offered free services to those they were collecting from including: employment assistance, credit specialists who negotiate reductions of other personal debt, resume writing, medical discounts and help accessing government assistance. CFS2 pledged to never litigate in order to collect from their accounts and encouraged others in the industry to follow its lead.

In April 2013 CFS2 became the first and only collection company to ever win The American Consumer Council's "Friend of the Consumer" award. In 2014 Bartmann won this award for the second time. CFS2 also won the Compass Award for Business Ethics (2013); Beacon Award for Community Involvement, Oklahoma Eagle Award for consumer advocacy, and the “Stevie” Award for Customer Service (2014). (4) Bartmann was named as one of the most admired CEO's in Oklahoma by the Oklahoma Journal Record. In October 2013 CFS2 was featured on CBS Evening News.

Reforming the industry went beyond the practices of his own company. A Bartmann-run website, StopTheseCriminals.com, urged consumers to sign a petition calling for legislative and regulatory reforms of the debt-collection industry. Among recommended reforms were the barring of all collection efforts on debt that is older than the statute of limitations; allowing consumers to record telephone calls from collection agencies; and requiring the licensing of both agencies and individual collectors. He persuaded 200 debt buying companies to take the “Bartmann Pledge" requiring all signors to agree not to use litigation against debtors; not to charge interest on the obligation, not to attempt to contact debtors more than twice in one day, not to pursue debtors beyond the statute of limitations, and not to resell delinquent loans.

Bartmann worked with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to reform the federal debt-collection rules. He also helped to enact a change to the Oklahoma debt-collection rules, which the Governor of Oklahoma signed into law in June 2011. Oklahoma Senate bill 1430 “The Bartmann Bill” required debt collectors to follow strict practices designed to protect consumers. This bill passed the Senate 40-2.

His actions and success drew national attention. In 2011 Bartmann was nominated to the Consumer Advisory Board of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by the president of the American Bankers Association (ABA), Frank Keating. The nomination was seconded by six sitting state attorneys general. In October 2012, he was invited to the West Wing of the White House to meet with the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and Senior Policy Advisers to discuss the creation of a moratorium on debt collection litigation that would reduce the national bankruptcy rate as much as 50% while also reducing the national unemployment rate. Bartmann worked extensively with Attorneys General across the United States to promote debt collection reforms and testified as an expert witness at their request at many hearings. In October 2013, he launched the Shutdown Affected Forbearance Relief (SAFR) program to help 400,000 federal employees furloughed by the government shutdown. The Center for Consumer Recovery contacted the creditors of these furloughed workers and persuaded them to grant a forbearance of interest, principal and credit reporting until the employees were called back to work. The organization's primary charter is to assist families victimized by natural disasters and act as an advocate and intermediary by dealing with the victim’s creditors, insurers and governmental agencies.

Bartmann was a regular contributor to publications like The Huffington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. He authored Out of Control: Cases of Debt-Collection Abuse In America and What We Can Do About It, an expose´of the debt collection industry. In July 2013 Bartmann was nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his debt collection industry reform efforts. In April 2014, the governor of Oklahoma appointed Bartmann to the Council of Bond Oversight, a five-member Council was responsible for reviewing and approving all financing requests by state agencies, authorities, departments and trusts.

Bartmann died at the age of 68 during heart bypass surgery on November 29, 2016. (5)



1. "Bill Bartmann" Wikipedia. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bartmann#frbanner3 This heavily footnoted article is a major source of information. A dsrker version can be found in the article by Emily Lambert.

2. Lambert, Emily. "Return of the Billionaire Huckster," Forbes. Nov. 2, 2011. Online: http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilylambert/2011/11/02/return-of-the-billionaire-huckster/#46b56aa71426

3. Ibid.

4. CFS2. Online: http://www.cfstwo.com/

5. "Prominent Businessman, Dubuque Native, Dies," Telegraph Herald, December 2, 2016, p. 3A