Calder Willingham had two choices upon graduating from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in 2006.
“I had to choose whether to do the corporate thing or go to Macon and help dad run and grow the family business,” he said. “Being a naive 22-year-old, I thought working for him would give me time to go hunt and fish.”
He joined Creditors Bureau Associates (CBA), his father’s agency, and learned it takes a lot of time to grow a small business. “It’s one of the toughest challenges there is.
Today Willingham owns and runs CBA, which provides account receivable management and bad debt collection services primarily for hospitals, physicians and EMS providers. Employment has grown from seven to nearly 50, with significant sales growth in its 30-state market area. He credits the Macon office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (UGA SBDC) for helping him reach this success.
Willingham attended the SBDC’s GrowSmart®program in 2015, sent his managers in 2017 and in the process began working with business consultant Peter Williams. Within the year, CBA was serving markets outside of Georgia. Next, Williams and Lisa Rackley, area director at the UGA SBDC in Macon, facilitated a strategic planning process. Rackley also assisted CBA with human resources issues necessary for its growth.
Willingham ties CBA’s success to understanding its culture.
“One of the most important things Peter and Lisa did was come into the office to meet with our team leaders and brainstorm how to better cultivate the culture we’re trying to cultivate, our core values–compliance first, work smart and serve others,” he said. “The main driver of our growth is employees who are engaged and understand the ‘why’ of what we do. The UGA SBDC’s help in this was invaluable.
”Not long after, Williams assisted Willingham and his father with a new challenge: succession.
“Virtually all family-owned firms struggle with this challenge, and a very low percentage approach it in an extremely thoughtful or strategic way,” Williams said. “I did a lot of listening and helped them talk through a practical, pragmatic way to do the transition. Willingham had an exceptional ability to take all things in mind while going through the process.”
The succession was completed in 2020, and Willingham was recently notified CBA will be included in the 2022 Bulldog 100, “embodying the best of what the University of Georgia stands for.”
For More Information: University of Georgia SBDC | (706) 542-2762