Michael Flock knows adversity.
But more importantly he knows how to turn adversity into resiliency.
When Flock was 12, he lost his hearing in his left ear. But nearly 30 years ago, when Flock was an up-and-coming marketing manager in New York for IBM Corp., he went completely deaf.
“I had been skiing in Killington, Vt., with a couple of friends and we stayed up late playing cards, when the next morning, poof, my hearing was gone,” Flock said. “I thought I had died.”
Flock suffered from a condition called sudden hearing loss, which caused him to lose his equilibrium and ability to enunciate.
“I was scared,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Flock’s friends drove him to Dartmouth College, where the ear specialist told him there was nothing to be done. But, fortunately, Dr. John J. Shea Jr., one of the best ear doctors in the country, was one of Flock’s grandfather’s best friends.
Nearly five days after losing his hearing, Flock jumped on a plane in the middle of the night for The Shea Clinic Ear Nose & Throat in Memphis, Tenn.
While at the clinic, Flock became very spiritual.
“Your whole life changes like that and this wasn’t in the film of Michael Flock” he said. “I couldn’t see myself as handicapped, I was going to be a successful business executive at IBM.”
After a few weeks of treatment, things continued to look dim for Flock and the doctor was ready to end treatment. But Flock begged him for just a few more days of treatment. “My grandfather had told my family to leave because they thought I was starting to feel sorry for myself and didn’t want me to give up,” Flock said. “I kept praying and praying and even read the New Testament twice.”
A few days later, Flock was sitting in his room when the phone rang. And he could hear it. Flock thought he was dreaming as his boss from IBM said, “How are you?”
“I get emotional even talking about it,” Flock said as he fought back tears. “It was like the first sound I ever heard.”
Flock is still completely deaf in his left ear, but he has 50 percent hearing in his right. “I thank God, just thank God,” he said. “But it taught me to never give up. Even when people say the worst you have to keep going because you can be so close to succeeding but you can’t see it.”
Flock began his career at IBM in 1976 as a sales representative and then became an international account manager for IBM’s large account division.
While at IBM, Flock met George W. Martin, chairman and CEO of Veteran Call Center LLC, who was a regional marketing manager around 1978.
“Not only have I had Michael work for me, but I’ve worked for him and each time that I see him in a position he is always in a leadership, take charge position, focused on not only doing the right thing for himself, but for his people,” Martin said. “He never let anything cause him to lose focus on what he is trying to get done.”
Martin said it was devastating for Flock when he first lost his hearing, but Flock rose to the occasion and put it behind him.
“He was crestfallen when it happened, but then he said ‘You know what? I can overcome this,’ and he did.”
Martin said Flock redoubled and quadrupled his efforts to stay on top of his recuperation and not let the hearing loss cause his performance to deteriorate or lose the ability to relate to people.
“Sometimes, I tell him he went overboard in doing it, but he is the most resilient, focused young man that I have ever met in any position that I have ever seen him in,” Martin said.
When Martin left IBM for AT&T, Flock also joined AT&T in its business communications systems division.
And when Martin left AT&T for Dun & Bradstreet, Flock again went with him. At D&B, Flock became president of its Receivables Management Services subsidiary in North America. It was then spun off as RMS and is now the largest commercial receivables management company in the world.
In 1997, D&B’s companies in Canada, Asia-Pacific and Latin America were assigned to Flock, where he improved profitability in these markets by transforming the business model to one based on partnerships. Flock left D&B in 2000 and started in the M&A advisory business for a variety of companies while working with an Atlanta-based middle market investment bank.
In 2007, he founded Flock Advisors, which provides M&A advisory services to these same credit, collections, debt buying and outsourcing business industries.
“We saw a void in the marketplace for financing debt buyers in 2008,” Flock said. “We learned that the small middle market debt buyers were getting better returns on their capital than the large debt buyers because they had special relationships with creditors that enabled them to buy debt at prices relatively lower versus their cost.”
Flock said after the crash in 2008 all of the big hedge funds and some of the specialty finance companies that were funding debt buyers left the market because they were all losing money.
As the prices of debt had plummeted, Flock wanted in when everyone else was getting out.
“We capitalized on the collapse after the crash and started our first middle market fund focused on customers in the Southeast that I knew or had made relationships with while I was at D&B.”
Flock achieved a three times multiple for the companies investors in four years.
Flock Advisors was relaunched as Flock Specialty Finance in July 2013 to scale the business. With the company’s new structure it is easier to raise more capital, he said, and easier to grow as a result of the ability to raise more capital. Today, the company has the ability to lend up to a total of $300 million to its clients.
“Our strategy was to go to a new structure that we could scale the new business and continue to grow both in some of the traditional debt buying asset classes like credit cards, auto loans, health care,” Flock said. “But, now we are getting into some of the performing portfolios like buy here pay here and consumer installment loans.”
Flock is bullish on his company’s future because he still sees a void in the market for middle market debt buyers as the big lenders still haven’t come back. And since the company’s structure is now bigger and more flexible, it allows the company to enter new asset classes faster.
“So we still see a void in the market for middle market debt buyers,” Flock said. “That is why we are very bullish on our future.
Born in: Barrington, Ill., raised in Darien, Conn.
Lives in: Atlanta
Current job: Chairman and CEO, Flock Specialty Finance
Previous job: Group President, Dun & Bradstreet RMS
Education: University of Virginia, Fulbright Scholar, White House intern during Nixon administration
Hobbies: American political history, golf, swimming, serves on the board of the Atlanta History Center