It’s a changing of the guard.

For the last two-plus decades, Joe Orlando served as president of Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and then later took over as CEO of PSA’s parent company, Collectors Universe. On July 16, Orlando worked his last day for the Santa Ana, Calif.-based company.

Collectors Universe executive chairman Nat Turner took over as the company’s CEO. Earlier this year, Turner — who has been a longtime collector just like Orlando —led an investment group that purchased Collectors Universe.

“A few weeks back when I made the decision to step away, it was just time,” Orlando told Sports Collectors Digest on July 21. “I know in these situations there are those who are always looking for some sort of dramatic reason of why someone resigned. I’m sorry to disappoint, but there’s no dramatic reason. I’ve been doing this for almost 22 years in August and I sort of just woke up one day and realized it was time for me to move on. That’s all.

“I absolutely love the company; I love the people. I’m sure they’re going to do fantastic things going forward.”

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Turner and the Collectors Universe brass made a “generous” offer to Orlando to stay on as CEO, but Orlando had already made up his mind.

Turner knows Orlando contributed in a big way to make PSA and Collectors Universe the giants in the industry they are today.

“He deserves all the credit, him and the grading team,” Turner told SCD. “Joe, I’ve looked up to him for a long time. I have his book on my desk at my office. He’s the one who kind of got me into authentication as a collector, caring about quality and condition and provenance and all that stuff. So, look, he was at the helm of PSA through the dark times and back in the day when they were just struggling and now, I would argue, kind of at the top.”

Orlando shocked the collecting community when he announced he was stepping away from Collectors Universe. Since word got out, Orlando said he has received tremendous feedback and support from collectors and folks throughout the industry.

Former Collectors Universe CEO Joe Orlando

Former Collectors Universe CEO Joe Orlando

As Turner mentioned, Orlando experienced plenty of highs and lows — especially early on in PSA’s existence — during his tenure as the head honcho. After 15 years as PSA’s president (2002-17), Orlando spent the last four as the Collectors Universe CEO.

When asked about what kind of legacy he’s leaving behind, Orlando laughed. He doesn’t associate the word legacy with himself. He’s concerned about what he could accomplish with his team for so many years.

“I’m a lifetime hobbyist that has a tremendous passion for this business and a tremendous passion for what PSA and Collectors Universe do,” Orlando said. “I was very fortunate to have that opportunity after I graduated law school, it just happened to work out in terms of the timing.

“There are things that maybe I’m most proud of, it’s really more of team pride. But I’m proud of the fact that when you go back — for those who remember, and we have a lot of new people who have come into the hobby — for those hobbyists that can remember going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a time when PSA had dozens of competitors that popped up, almost overnight. I think the fact that we outlasted them all and we did things the right way, we did them in a sustainable way, I’m very proud of the team for doing it that way.”

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When PSA started in 1991, it had a tough time helping collectors realize that third-party grading services were advantageous for the hobby. PSA was just grading cards early on, but once Orlando stepped into his leadership role, he was able to help implement changes that advanced the company and industry. PSA turned into a one-stop shop for grading and authentication.

“Whether they were a ticket collector, a card collector, autographs, game-used bats, unopened packs, original photos, you name it, we tried to cover it in the best way possible,” Orlando said. “I’m a collector; I definitely have the collecting gene. Collectors really love the idea of uniformity. If they can have it in their collections, and I felt like if we could cover as much ground as possible in all these different fields, whether they were big revenue generators or not, it was good for the brand. But it was also good for collectors and the industry to provide these services for a number of different areas, and that didn’t exist at the beginning of, if you want to call it, my run at PSA.”

Orlando, who will be attending the National Sports Collectors Convention this year as a collector for the first time since the late 1990s, doesn’t know what’s on the horizon for his career. But it could include being in the sports collectibles and memorabilia setting again.

“One of the things that Nat and I talked about quite a bit during this transition, Nat asked me, ‘What are you going to do? What’s next for you?’” Orlando said. “I didn’t want to get into a grass is greener sort of scenario where I’m thinking something else would be better. It had nothing to do with that. It just got to a point where it felt like, you know what, it’s time for a change in my life. I would love to stay involved somehow in the industry. It’s something I have a deep passion for.”

TURNER’S PLANS FOR COLLECTORS UNIVERSE

As Turner stepped into the CEO chair on July 19, his plans for Collectors Universe are to continue where Orlando left off.

Since Turner and his investing group, which includes New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, purchased Collectors Universe, the company has been acquiring all sorts of assets. In April, Collectors Universe bought the technology company Genamint, Inc., to help improve card grading. Earlier this month, Collectors Universe purchased the video game grading service Wata Games.

Collectors Universe CEO Nat Turner

Collectors Universe CEO Nat Turner 

As Turner was driving to the airport to fly out to California for his first day of work as Collectors Universe’s CEO, he was amped.

“Every time I go out there, I get excited to spend time with the team,” said Turner, who plans on commuting to the office a couple times a month from his New York home. “Honestly, just being back in the saddle is exhilarating. There’s nothing quite like it, being able to sit down for a few hours with the team and work through product ideas or brainstorm. … The biggest thing for me, though, is just the technology innovation.

“As a collector, I know firsthand the opportunities and challenges that grading companies have with the modern-day hobby — scammers, trimmers, that’s on the challenge side. But on the opportunity side, the hobby’s changed. There’s a lot more emphasis on understanding collection value, turnover of cards is increasing, marketplaces, I would say, are evolving. All that stuff is opportunity for us to create new technology — advance that registry where collection management, real-time pricing, all that stuff is not a strength of Collectors Universe or PSA, and my plan is to be laser-focused on hiring engineers, data scientists. Honestly, I know that stuff. I don’t know a lot in this world, but that stuff, I know pretty well.”

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Turner has big ideas for the company, but he’s not going to come in and make sweeping changes. That’s especially true on the grading side, which has been PSA’s bread and bread for decades.

PSA still has a backlog of cards from when it halted submissions on April 1, and Turner said the company is using 95 percent of its capacity or more every day to get caught up.

“I learned from Joe, PSA and PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) are what they are for a reason; they’ve been very focused on maintaining a standard for a very long time and who am I to come in and kind of turn that upside down,” Turner said. “I don’t think it needs a lot of changing. I think what needs to happen though is scalability — scale the grading process without breaking it.

“It’s very obvious we need a lot greater capacity, based on the demand for our services, no question. It’s not acceptable to have eight-month turnaround times or worse. It’s just not OK, and I know that. We’ve got to fix that. I get DMs on Instagram every day, probably hundreds of them, from people saying, ‘When are you going to have better set registry features? When are you going to have the ability to scan the card and have it automatically added to my inventory like you do in coins? When are you going to have images of every card you grade?’ It’s not so much changing the grading process as it is just making the all-around PSA/PCGS services better. A lot of that is just through tech investments.”

Once PSA started taking submissions again for its Express service on July 1, its pricing scale went up. Now, the lowest cost for a collector to get a card graded is $200 for Express. PSA's Super Express and Walk-Through services remain available, while its Value, Economy and Regular tiers are all still suspended.

Turner has the goal in mind to return to affordable grading options.

“Oh, God yeah,” Turner said. “I want us to get back to $10 to $20 a card, honestly. We’re a collector company, it’s in our name. Our goal is to not cater to only the high-end market. There’s set collectors that want to send in a bunch of commons from 1981 Topps — that’s totally fine. We want to get back there. I have thousands of cards that I personally have, sets, random sets that you probably don’t care about or know of, but the common card is $10. I’m not going to spend $50 or $100 to get it graded. We’re not meeting the needs of every collector at the moment.” 

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