Cass Information Systems' (CASS) Lawrence A. "Larry" Collett is an undeniably admirable combination of consistency and an unabashed determination to incorporate his faith into his many and varied endeavors.
In an era when many of us have resided in an array of locations and areas of our country, Collett was born, raised, educated, worked, and still resides in the St. Louis area. Further, when five or ten years are considered by some to constitute a lengthy job tenure, he's now served suburban St. Louis, Missouri-based Cass (CASS) for more than half a century.
He's known his wife Sherry since the seventh grade, although he points out that they didn't date until college. (The couple now has two daughters, a son, and nine grandchildren.) But perhaps the most significant indication of his steadfastness is the unswerving strength of his Christian values, which first manifested themselves early in his youth -- he was raised a Baptist -- and have only strengthened through the years.
Cass performs vital functions for other corporations, including such giants as Ford and DuPont. Its assistance involves handling customers' payables in such areas as utilities, transportation, communication, and waste disposal. Of key importance are the related audits provided by Cass in each payables area. The obvious benefit for its customers is the ability to manage their expenses more efficiently. Cass also operates a full-service bank, many of whose customers are churches and church-related ministries.
Collett joined the company in 1963, while he was studying accounting at the University of St. Louis. He later added a Masters in finance from the same Jesuit-run institution, and studied at Rutgers' University's Stonier Graduate School of Banking. He credits the philosophy courses he was required to take at St. Louis -- he accumulated a minor in the subject -- with having provided valuable perspectives for his religious faith.
Collett became executive vice president of Cass in 1974 and moved to the company's presidency in 1983. In 1993 he assumed its chairmanship.
Where others dare not tread
Today he continues to serve as Cass's non-executive chairman. And in an era of "political correctness," he and Eric H. Brunngraber, his successor as president and CEO, unhesitatingly placed that glorious sentence from Psalm 118 -- "This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it." -- on the second page of Cass's 2014 annual report.
Brunngraber also began the final paragraph of the report's president's letter with "Finally, we recognize and express our ultimate gratitude to God for His guidance and blessings."
This isn't an aberration for the company. Collett credits his predecessor, a Christian, with initiating the practice of recognizing the Lord in Cass annual reports. "He started it, and I could continue it without fear of reprisal," he says.
Collett also notes the strong link between his own Christian beliefs and his corporate role. "I can't separate my faith from business," he says. "When you're making decisions, such as those involved in acquisitions, you need help and guidance and direction beyond what you and your staff can bring to bear."
His faith and that of others in management also has a significant effect on the company's human resources. As he observes, "We say (our people) are important to us. But how do we let them and their families know that?" A key way, he says, is by providing appropriate benefits to the employees. "In the United States, in general, employee loyalty has greatly diminished over the past 50 years.
We're concerned about the sustainability of the business," he says of debt-free Cass. Our employees are our biggest asset. "So we let them know they're valued through their benefits packages and the management of their time at work. Since we want our people to lead full and complete lives, we try to avoid weekend and holiday work whenever possible."
One of Collett's many non-business activities involves the co-authorship of a book soon to be submitted to its publisher. Titled Living the Restored Life, it's a multi-dimensional "look at living the life that Christ made available for us during His time on Earth."
Spreading the word
But Collett's activities don't end there. The former director of a Billy Graham Crusade in St. Louis, he's also a teaching participant in the CEO Forum, an organization that fosters new (frequently faith-based) approaches to management among its executive participants, who are often from the ranks of the nation's largest corporations.
The Forum provides a three-year curriculum, with attendees meeting three times per year, typically in Dallas. As Collett notes, the curriculum is designed to take businessmen and businesswomen from their current circumstances to an understanding of what their role means from God's perspective. That approach often results in substantial changes in their approaches to business.
For instance, Collett says that CEOs come to realize that they can have a real marriage and family life, despite the heavy calls on their time. In addition, "They're kids don't have to be orphaned," he says. And they discover that other positive areas of their lives aren't out of bounds while they're involved in leading their corporations.
That's the sort of change that Collett has experienced in his own personal life and career through his Christian walk. As he says, "I can now see the Kingdom in all phases of my life. It started slowly, but it's becoming more and more evident."