Jim Christensen, owner of Array Services Group in Sartell, is the 2012 Entrepreneurial Success Award Recipient. The award is presented annually by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and honors a business that starts out small and becomes large under the same leadership.
In 1977, Christensen knew he wanted to own a business. He had worked in a variety of positions – all dealing with people, sales and collections – and now it was time to call his own shots. He put a down payment on a resort/bar/restaurant business in Anoka. Final price: $250,000.
Then he learned about a collection agency in St. Cloud. It was owned by one of Christensen’s former bosses. He could have it for $14,000. He got his down payment back on the resort and took over ownership of Central Collection Services. Now called J.C. Christensen and Associates, the original company is just one of three businesses under the Array Services Group umbrella.
Christensen spent the first 10 years building the collection company from three employees to 20. He traveled throughout Minnesota acquiring clients, especially in the medical field. Every small town had a dentist and a doctor. “I would come every month and bring them a check from money I had collected on their past due accounts,” Christensen said. “I knew people would see me because I had money for them. That gave me the chance to ask for more business.”
In 1991, Christensen entered into a partnership to create CareCall. CareCall focused on contacting customers after they had made a complex purchase, such as a computer, and walking them through the set-up process. Cellular telephone companies helped drive CareCall’s expansion, which grew from three people in 1991 to 340 people in 2011. “When 9-11 occurred, the market collapsed for cell phones,” Christensen said. “Providers consolidated and took the work back.” Still a strong segment of Array Services Group, CareCall now has about 130 employees.
ProSource, the third leg of the Array Services stool, has taken off in the last few years and is the current growth-driver for the company. A customer service business, ProSource works exclusively with health care providers as their receivables department. These are soft contacts designed to answer patients’ questions and develop payment plans; collecting on debt is not part of their business model.
From three employees and $50,000 in revenue, Christensen has grown his company to 500-plus employees and combined revenue of $38 million. And as the business has grown, his commitment to helping the community has grown, too. The company has made significant gifts to the St. Cloud Public Library, CentraCare Health Foundation, St. Cloud Area Family YMCA, United Way and Toys for Tots. They also support scholarships at the St. Cloud Technical and Community College and have made their facilities and technology available to non-profit organizations.
Christensen will be honored at the Chamber’s Business Awards Luncheon at noon Thursday, May 3 at the Holiday Inn and Suites in St. Cloud. In addition to Christensen, the luncheon will recognize Pat Huesers and Mike Meyer, PAM’s Auto, the 2012 St. Cloud Area Small Business Owners of the Year. For reservations, call the Chamber at (320) 251-2940, ext. 126 or online at events.StCloudAreaChamber.com.