Robert Kamerschen | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Transparency and Inclusion
By Robert Green
For Robert Kamerschen, leadership is about transparency. “Anybody that works for me will soon know all about me, my wife, my kids, and my business philosophy,” he says. “I share information broadly and encourage others to do the same. Inclusion demands transparency.”
As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Chief Administrative Officer of Atlanta-based Aaron’s, Kamerschen employs this management philosophy every day.
He is also rather proud of the great strides that the company has made since he joined in June of 2013. The 2014 acquisition by Aaron’s of Progressive Leasing has placed the company firmly in the world of “virtual” rent-to-own, giving it the ability to transact business in over 16,000 retail locations in addition to its more than 1,930 Company-operated and franchised stores in 47 states and Canada. Progressive’s revenue has grown to $1 billion in 2015 up from $200 million in 2012. Also, pure e-commerce transactions from the Aarons.com site have grown rapidly and now account for almost 5% of deliveries.
A native of Athens, Georgia, Kamerschen grew up loving sports. As the quarterback of Clarke Central High School, he led the team in his senior year to a 15 – 0 record and state championship. Robbie was named offensive player of the year for State of Georgia. In baseball, he led the state in strikeouts and was undefeated. Just to complete the picture, he was also a member of the National Honor Society and student body president. Recruited by every college that you can think of, Kamerschen chose Stanford because that was the place that would challenge him academically as well as in sports. The choice proved to be a good one, as he was a pitcher on two College World Series baseball teams for Stanford as well as backup quarterback on the football team. Accepted into a number of law schools, Kamerschen put the advanced degree on hold in order to play professional ball for the Phillies, followed by a stint as Deputy Press Secretary for US Senator Richard Shelby.
“My time in Washington working for Senator Shelby reminded me how much I liked law and public policy,” he says, “and I decided that it was time to finally go to law school.” Kamerschen entered the University of Georgia School of Law in 1992 and graduated with honors in 1994. Given his interest in the intersection of politics and law, joining the firm of Troutman Sanders after graduation seemed like a good fit.
“I enjoyed working at Troutman Sanders, but after five years I had the opportunity to join a client called EzGov as General Counsel,” he says. The board of EzGov included such political powerhouses as Sam Nunn, Jack Kemp, Mario Coumo and Zell Miller. “It was an exciting time, but the dot.com bust hurt us and we ended up selling the company to John Imlay.” In 2002 Kamerschen became the Vice President for Law and Public Policy at a fast-growing larger company called ChoicePoint. The company had spun out of Equifax in 1997 with revenues of over $300 million and quickly began acquiring other data companies to build up its portfolio of offerings.
For six years, the constant acquisition and integration of companies by ChoicePoint provided plenty of excitement for both the company and Kamerschen. These activities were overshadowed in 2005 by a groundbreaking data breach that captured the attention of Congress, a number of federal agencies and nearly every state attorney general in the United States. “You have to remember,” Kamerschen says, “that this was the country’s first large data breach after the California notification law took effect.”
Indeed, the ChoicePoint breach was the first major breach to come to the attention of the public as well. Three congressional hearings, one FTC enquiry and a 47 state attorney general investigations later, the matter was resolved. “It took a little over a year to get through, but I certainly learned a lot,” says Kamerschen. “We ended up selling ChoicePoint to Reed Elsevier, the London-based parent of LexisNexis, for $4.1 billion in 2008.”
After the sale of ChoicePoint, Kamerschen accepted a job at Equifax where he rose to become US Chief Counsel, SVP of Governmental Affairs and Chief Compliance Officer. His various roles culminated in him being in charge of US legal operations, worldwide governmental relations and all aspects of compliance companywide. In 2012, Equifax legal was named Legal Department of the Year by the Fulton County Daily Report. For Kamerschen, Equifax was an object lesson on the impact that one person can make on a company. “Rick Smith, our CEO, transformed the company from a sleepy but stable credit reporting company into a dynamic technology analytics company,” he says, “and the value of the company increased greatly.”
In early 2013, Kamerschen was approached about an opportunity with another well-known Atlanta company, Aaron’s, Inc. “I knew the brand but I didn’t know the business as well,” he says. “Still, I thought it could be an opportunity to be part of great change, like at Equifax.” Examining the company and culture, he observed that the company was made up of dedicated people working hard to serve their community in the rent-to-own space. “That appealed to me greatly,” he says, “and I thought working at Aaron’s would be a fun challenge.” Kamerschen accepted the job knowing that there were issues to deal with at the company and, sure enough, a hostile takeover was attempted one year into his tenure. Rejecting the takeover offer, the company instead made what Kamerschen calls a “transformative acquisition,” which helped to set the company on the growth path that it is on today. “Aaron’s had been talking with Progressive Leasing about a partnership for a while,” he said. “They had a point-of-sale algorithm which enabled a rent-to-own option for consumers who had been turned down for a credit purchase,” he said, “but being a Salt Lake City company with a smaller national footprint, they wanted to partner with Aaron’s for the logistics and distribution. We have full-service locations all over the country.”
John W. Robinson, III, the former CEO of Progressive Leasing, is now the CEO of Aaron’s, and the company is greatly changed. “The technology we have from Progressive has set the company on a great growth path and we’ll be doing even more e-commerce in the future,” says Kamerschen, “and we believe that our embrace of technology will help us to reach more millennials.” It will be interesting to see if this vast group of Americans who famously despise both credit and banks will turn on to Aaron’s if technology makes it easy for them to do so.
Another important change has been the sale of the company building and the move of corporate headquarters (known at Aaron’s as the store support center) to the Galleria. “That was important for morale,” says Kamerschen. “It’s amazing what a bright new space can do for a person’s mood.” The company now has three full floors of modern space in the Galleria 400 building which has also made working together as teams much easier.
In his current role, Kamerschen has over 40 people working for him, only 10 of whom are lawyers. In addition to being in charge of legal, he also runs information security, compensation and benefits, risk management, compliance, government relations, physical security, community affairs and the Aaron’s Foundation. “It is a lot of responsibility,” he says, “but I’ve never been happier professionally. We have a great leadership team and I’m glad to be part of it.”
Kamerschen is the executive sponsor of the Aaron’s Women’s Leadership Network, just started this year, which launched its first “Lead Like a Girl” career development program in July, in conjunction with the Aaron’s Foundation. 14 young girls from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta attended and learned about subjects like professionalism, information technology, and finance. “I really believe that this group will be important for all the lives it touches in the future, both inside and outside the company,” he says.
“Another reason that I’m excited to be at Aaron’s is because everyone takes seriously our mission to serve the community and be inclusive,” he says. As national lead sponsor of the Keystone Teen Leadership Program for the national Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the company has contributed $5 million over three years. And the mission of the Aaron’s Foundation is to help “at risk” youth. “Our CEO is passionate about our work in the community,” says Kamerschen, “and I can’t help but feel good about working for a company that has its priorities straight. Like I said at the beginning, it’s important to include everyone.”
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