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Ole Miss Alumni Review: Securing A Niche

Alumnus Turns Business Idea In College Into One Of Fastest Growing U.S. Companies

William Alias III. Photo by Kevin Bain.

This story was reprinted with permission from the Ole Miss Alumni Review.

Countless successful businesses began as ideas in the minds of college students in their apartments or dorm rooms, including such icons as Facebook, Yahoo and Google. William Alias III (95) of Oxford can count his business idea for Security Check, formulated in his apartment in 1995, among the successful. He collected insufficient-funds checks for local businesses and soon thereafter for businesses across the nation. The company grew to include 200 employees with 25,000 clients across the U.S., and earned Alias recognition by the Mississippi Business Journal as one of Mississippi’s “Top 40 Under 40.”

Security Card Services, with locations noted here, is one of the rapidly growing companies under the Security Holdings umbrella.

Alias grew up in Atlanta but spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in Clarksdale as well as attending Ole Miss football games. He credits his family’s entrepreneurial spirit for sparking his interest in starting a business.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be in business for myself because I saw my dad and my uncle start businesses, so I think I was looking for something and probably wasn’t even aware I was looking for it,” Alias says.
Security Check grew to be the nation’s fourth-largest check collection company, and was purchased in 2008 by a private equity firm in Ohio after being recognized three times by Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America.
Alias has spoken to classes in the UM School of Business Administration for the past decade to offer advice to young people about becoming an entrepreneur.
“To me, there is no better time in life to start a business than when you are 23 or 24 years old,” Alias says. “There are so many obstacles that you don’t have [compared with] when you are 40 or 50 or 60. You usually don’t have a family, you don’t have kids, you don’t have all the expenses, you don’t have the stress of all the things that come later in life. You are at an age that if you fail, so what? It’s a great time in life to start a business.”
Peter Ward

Today, Security Holdings LLC is the umbrella for Security Credit Services, which handles debt purchasing, and Security Card Services, which handles credit card processing. They, too, were recognized by Inc. magazine in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Security Card Services has exclusive agreements with more than 100 banks and 1,200 bank branches in more than 30 states. William Alias Jr., CEO of Security Holdings, says the businesses’ growth can be attributed to the kinds of employees they hire.
“Our character trait has not changed, and it won’t change,” says Alias Jr. (BBA 63). “We look for employees with integrity, common sense, a great attitude, a strong work ethic and who are team players.”
Finding most of those employees is as easy as looking across town from their offices on West Oxford Loop to the University of Mississippi campus. The company has employed 29 Ole Miss alumni, most in the last three years.
Alias Jr. wants future graduates to be aware of the employment opportunities with Security Holdings.
“People always want to know the job description. I tell them, don’t worry about that; just get on the train. This is a fast-moving train. You get on the train, and we will find you a seat,” Alias Jr. says. “Originally, it’s not going to be the seat you want, but you just get in, and in 90 to 100 days, as fast as this company is growing, we are going to find you the seat you want.”
William Alias III, Joan Rasberry and William Alias Jr. all serve on the executive team of Security Holdings. Photo by Kevin Bain. 

Joan Rasberry, Security Holdings’ chief operating officer, echoes Alias’ sentiments.
“I think you can pretty much sit down and talk to [individuals], and you know if they are the right fit pretty quickly,” she says. “When you are talking with them and they start telling you about their family and where they came from, what their parents did, you get the sense of whether there is a work ethic there, and also if their parents were creative in the things they did with their life.”
Additionally, Alias Jr. has been a member of the School of Business Administration’s advisory board since 2006, which provides support for the school and keeps him in contact with students.
“I meet a lot of the students there, and I participate as much as I can,” he says. “What we are doing is finding the quality people who are willing to work. Ole Miss students have a lot of personality, they really do. They can get along anywhere. You can drop them off in Portland, Ore., or Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and they’ll do just fine if they are given an opportunity and someone to support them a little bit.”
Hattie Alton Steiner

The younger Alias says that communication is a key aspect to the educational component at the university.
“Ole Miss obviously has strong academic programs, but there are a lot of social skills learned at Ole Miss, and I believe that they are very valuable,” Alias III says. “What we do primarily in hiring Ole Miss students is place them in banks throughout the country. We have to place people who are sharp, who can interact with people, and who will represent us and the bank to that bank’s customers. I think Ole Miss students are perfect for that.”
One of the employees cultivated through the business school is Peter Ward (BBA 13), a marketing major from Birmingham, Ala.
Ward says he was originally thinking about entering the field of insurance, but he wasn’t necessarily sold on that idea.
“I had no clue about what Security Card was, I had never even heard of it, and I was knee-deep in interviews for insurance jobs, but I hated it,” Ward says. “I talked with Joan Rasberry and others there, and I ended up loving it. I really hit it off with them, and I had never felt that way in any other interview that I had, so I felt like this was where I needed to be.”
After getting hired, he and his wife transferred to Baltimore, Md., last August, where Ward is a regional account manager. He says he loves his job as well as the location, being 45 minutes from Washington and a train ride away from New York City.
“The beauty of this niche market is that we partner with banks around the country, so in my case we partner with Susquehanna Bank and [its] 265 branches up here, doing the credit card processing for Susquehanna’s businesses,” Ward says. “I think having a marketing degree was the most applicable degree for this job, but you have to be really outgoing and motivated because, in this job, it’s like you are your own boss.”
Rasberry points out that typical jobs with other companies come about because a person is replacing someone who is leaving.
“Almost [all] of our positions are growth positions. They are not replacement positions, because we are a growing company,” she says.
Alias Jr. and Rasberry realize that a company is only as strong as its employees.
“I think Joan and I try to mentor people who are going to be productive in life and help other people be productive,” says Alias Jr. “That’s what we do, and that takes time.”
An example of someone without a direct business background is Hattie Alton Steiner (BA 03). An Oxford native, she graduated from Ole Miss as an English major and decided to leave her home state of Mississippi to work at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. in Denver. She later took jobs closer to home as a pharmaceutical sales
representative in Memphis and as development director for the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society.
Now in her fourth year as a regional account manager for Security Card Services in Denver, she handles the rates, equipment and day-to-day service for the Colorado Business Bank.
“It’s a great job, and I love that it is a company based out of Oxford,” Steiner says.“They offer great opportunities, and it’s wonderful that it’s allowed me to come back to Colorado.”
Lacking business experience wasn’t a problem for Steiner.
“I interact with bankers all day, and I did have to learn some things on my own, but as long as you take care of your customers and provide customer service, it’s fine,” she says. “I remember when I took this job, I knew I didn’t have any experience in the industry, but I knew I could take care of my customers and make them happy on the sales side of things. That is actually the advice I give to new people: building relationships is the most important part, and having people skills is key.”
Alias III says that he plans to continue living in Oxford and keeping up with the changing business trends. He is also focused on his family, the outdoors and Ole Miss football.
“We constantly look for new businesses to start, and so I believe that we will be here for many years to come,” he says. “We love what we are doing now, but we have also learned that you have to change as the businesses change, and I think we’ve been fairly proficient at adapting to the changes. I think we’ll be here for a long, long time, hopefully continuing to grow our businesses.”
Part of what is gratifying about the company’s growth is watching employees come through who progress as the years go by.
“Ole Miss and Oxford have been great to us, and it’s really fun hiring [people] and then watching them grow,” the younger Alias says. “We have had several people who have done amazing things.”

By Rebecca Lauck Cleary

This story was reprinted with permission from the Ole Miss Alumni Review. The Alumni Review is published quarterly for members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association. Join or renew your membership with the Alumni Association today, and don’t miss a single issue.

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