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Helen Leonard | 03 October, 2023

Constructing Collections: A Deep Dive with Helen Leonard of Acco Engineered Systems

Collecting Thoughts is C&R Software’s new podcast, presenting conversations with subject matter experts and insiders throughout the finance, software, and collections industries. 

This week, our host, Christina, spoke with Helen Leonard, Director of Accounts Receivable and Collections at ACCO Engineered Systems. With over 20 years of experience in the collections industry, she’s an expert in ensuring payments on construction projects proceed according to blueprints! 

The two spoke about her role in the construction industry, her career path, and some lessons learned along the way.

Listen on Spotify here.

Listen on Apple here.

Guest Profile

Name: Helen Leonard

Profession: Director of Accounts Receivable and Collections, ACCO Engineered Systems

With an educational background in Business Accounting, Helen has held diverse roles throughout her career. She has served as an office manager and collections supervisor, and currently, she oversees the entire collections and accounts receivable departments for ACCO—a mechanical systems manufacturer founded in 1934. 

Find Helen on LinkedIn.

Episode’s Key Points

A Jack of All Office Trades

To start things off, Christina discusses with Helen her career path that led her to where she is today at ACCO. As Helen explained, she gained much experience working for a copper repiping company where her responsibilities included just about everything. 

She was hesitant about transitioning from that small organization to a large corporation. Still, she found that she and ACCO fit well thanks to its family-like work atmosphere.

“It was a small company, and I did everything. I did billing, collections, permits, you know, it was everything. Then, a friend of mine kept pushing me to send a resume [to ACCO].

I was a little nervous and hesitant about joining a large company. I had worked at small companies most of my life and thought, ‘I don’t know… I don’t want to be just a number in this large corporation.’ But I could tell it was unique; ACCO was…. It was such a family atmosphere, even though it was large.”

Unique challenges of the Construction Industry

For Helen, what makes collections within the construction industry unique and challenging is the need to keep up with the accounts of contractors, sub-contractors, owner contacts, and anyone else involved in complicated commercial construction projects. 

That might sound like a tall order, and according to Helen—it is! Luckily, she’s utilized her skills as a multi-faceted collections wizard to keep on top of it all.

“Your May payment’s on hold, and you have ten subcontractors and suppliers that I need releases from; they need to be notarized. They need to say they got paid for this month, and I need it all by yesterday.

So it’s a lot of juggling, and it’s a lot of unique relationships. You have the owner, general contractor, and then your subs, whom you also have relationships with because you’re constantly using them on projects. And so it’s a constant balance. Keep your customers happy, moving, and accountable for their role in keeping the project moving.”

Dealing with Hesitancy to Change in the Industry

Helen has learned that while everyone may have big ideas for implementing processes that revolutionize their workplace, sometimes one has to deal with somewhat antiquated systems.

When it comes to construction, she says a lot of it is still old-fashioned in certain regards. For instance, half their subcontractor payments still come through checks rather than electronic money transfers. While change is coming, it’s a slow process! 

“The construction industry is still very manual. Our generals—they don’t want to change. There are a lot more portals now, as far as billing. 

We looked at a few processes for paying sub, but it’s still manual. There is no software that helps us track all that. It’s all us doing it by rote. But I do see where we’re trying to get a little more tech-savvy.

It’s about learning to blend [the old and new] in a way that keeps things productive.”

To learn more about finance, software, and the collections industry topics from insiders and experts like Helen, visit the C&R Software blog

Stay tuned for future episodes of Collecting Thoughts, where host Christina dives deep into more interviews with leaders from across the debt recovery and software world. 

 Helen Leonard
About the author

Helen Leonard

Helen Leonard is Director of Accounts Receivable and Collections at ACCO Engineered Systems. With over 20 years of experience in the collections industry, she’s an expert in ensuring payments on construction projects proceed according to blueprints.

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