Joan Herbig, President of Wnet & Board Member of ControlScan | Episode 27

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Women Leaders in Payments podcast month. A special thanks to our sponsor Paysafe.

Joan:

And obviously I run across a lot of people who network only when they’re in need. And I think that’s a very dangerous position to put yourself in number one. And you miss out on so much because there are so many wonderful people out there.

Greg:

That was Joan Herbig, the president of the Wnet and board member of ControlScan. She’s our special guest on this episode, episode 27, as we continue to celebrate Women Leaders in Payments month, sponsored by Paysafe. I’m your host, Greg Myers, and in this episode, I talk with Joan about her journey, including a degree in French, quickly learning in her first job, what she didn’t want to do professionally, and then becoming interested in computers and technology saying yes, raising your hand, taking risks, helping other women succeed and networking with passion are just a few of the topics we cover. We end the episode discussing the Wnet and its mission to empower women. We’ve got a great episode with a great leader, so let’s get started.

Greg:

Hi, Joan, thank you for being here and welcome to the Leaders in Payments podcast, and more specifically, thank you for participating during Women Leaders in Payments month. 

Joan:

Good morning, Greg. It’s really great to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Greg:

Absolutely. So first tell our audience about your role today as the president of the Wnet. And then we’ll rewind a little bit and talk about your journey to how you got there. 

Joan:

Okay. That sounds great. Thank you again for inviting me to be part of your podcast series. I’m particularly excited to participate in the Women Leaders in Payments month. As far as Wnet, I had to look it up on LinkedIn, but I’ve been involved with Wnet for eight years now, serving on the board during that period of time. This year, I’m fortunate enough to serve as president of the organization.

I have been retired for about three years and working with Wnet in the capacity – a volunteer capacity, I think is a great way to end my career because Wnet’s passion and mission for helping women achieve their potential is something that has been very important to me throughout my career, so I could think of no better way to go out than to be involved here. 

Greg:

Great, and we’ll dive into the mission of WNET a little more towards the end, but thank you for that intro. So, let’s rewind a little bit, and let’s talk about where you grew up and what was your life like when you were growing up?

Joan:

Oh, my goodness. You’re taking me way back. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. I was the fourth of five children, four girls, and a boy. And I grew up in a very lovely setting and in a really loving family. I went to high school to an all-girls school, and I felt that that environment was something that was very formative in my development. I also fell in love with French while I was in high school, and I ended up during the year between high school and college studying in France as an exchange student. It was a gap year before it was cool. I didn’t even know that at that time. And then, you know, I came back and went to college. So, I had a wonderful childhood, great education and really enjoyed being part of a large family. I’m still very close to all my siblings who all, by the way, it’s still live in Louisville. I ended up leaving Louisville right after I graduated from college. So, I’m kind of a black sheep from that perspective.

Greg:

There’s always one, as they say, there’s always one. So when you were growing up, would you say you were more like the lemonade stand builder, the more entrepreneurial type, or were you more the planner organizer of the Friday night out with your friends?

Joan:

At a very young age I was definitely an entrepreneur. I had a friend named Nancy and we had lemonade stands. We put on plays, where we charged admission fees. We actually ended up selling one time. We were looking for an idea to raise money. So, Nancy went into her mother’s jewelry box and we took some of the jewelry door to door and sold it. And when the mothers got together a few months later, they discovered that this had taken place and it didn’t end well, but it definitely shows the entrepreneurial spirit as a young girl. And then, you know, later on, I also became an organizer and enjoyed going out with my friends and organizing time, that kind of thing. So, I think I’m a little bit of both. 

Greg:

Okay. Okay. So, I guess it was good intentions, but maybe not the best way to find your inventory. 

Joan:

Exactly. Yes. Yes. 

Greg:

So, what was your very, very first job that you remember?

Joan:

Very first job for me. I remember very clearly. I worked at an ice cream store. It was called Ehlers and I scooped ice cream. I made malts and sundays for people, and I started that job when I was 16 years old. And it was, it was a great job because this ice cream shop was very popular and very crowded, especially on the weekend nights. So, I learned a lot about managing customers and just in a kind of heated environment.

Greg:

Right. And so you were the CEO of ControlScan for almost 10 years, but before that you had a couple other executive kind of positions. So maybe just walk through it – you graduated from college and kind of from that point on to where you became, the CEO of ControlScan maybe fill in that gap a little bit.

Joan:

Absolutely. So, I went to college in Louisville and I received a bachelor’s in French and my husband and I, I got married right after college. We moved immediately to Raleigh, North Carolina. He worked for IBM and I realized pretty quickly what my dad had been telling me all along is that French was not a particularly marketable skill. And so, I ended up taking a job in an insurance company, and that was an important experience for me because I learned very quickly what I did not want to do while on that job. I experienced racism, discrimination against women. I saw a lot of things that I didn’t really understand completely until years later, but I did know one thing I wanted to get out of there. And fortunately, while I was there, PCs started coming into industry and I saw the first PCs being deployed within that company.

And I ended up transferring to the computer department, the IT department. I also decided that I wanted to take some night courses on computer science and remember I’m a French degree person trying to move my way into more of the science mathematical world. And it was a pretty big shift for me, but it was something that I felt would be really interesting. I was intrigued by it. My husband was a mechanical engineer, so I had somebody who could tutor me along the way. And we ended up moving from Raleigh to Lexington, Kentucky, and it was there that I decided to go back to school full-time and pursue a degree in computer science. I ended up getting a master’s in computer science, and that ended up to be an important turning point for my life. When I completed my degree, we moved to Atlanta and it was here in Atlanta that I pursued my first, what I call real job.

And I started working for a company called DCA that is located in Alpharetta. And I worked there for nine years and it was a very great place for me, a wonderful culture. And during that time, I pursued a number of different responsibilities ending up as product line manager for one of the products that we had. When DCA was sold to a Seattle based company, we decided we did not want to relocate. And so, I ended up going to company a called Xcellenet. I entered that company as an international product manager. I was able to use some of my skills, language skills in that role. And I worked there for another eight years, or it may have been a little bit longer than that, but four years into it, by that time I was vice president of marketing. The company was sold, and I ended up being what I will call the last man standing from the executive team, most of the executives left.

We were subsumed into a larger company. We were an independent division. And one day they came to me and asked me if I would be interested in serving as president of the organization of our division within their organization and everything flashed through my mind in a few seconds, like I’ve never run a sales force. I’ve never run a development team. I don’t really know much about finance. And I was talking to myself about all the reasons that this would not be a good idea, realize if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay. You know, take the risk. And so, I looked the gentlemen in the eye and I said, absolutely, yes, I’d be excited to do that job. And from there, the company that acquired us decided to spin us out. And we, the management team that we had put in place led the divestiture. We ended up taking private equity money and going back to the old name of our company and just re-establishing ourselves as an independent company again.

And we worked hard over the four years and we ended up with a successful exit, which it was in 2000, I believe. And so that experience Xcellenet, and that was my first CEO role. Once the company was sold, I worked for a little bit of time within the acquired company and decided that I really preferred smaller environments. So, I worked with a venture capitalist out of Chicago to take the CEO role of a company called Cambia Security. And that was also as every experience is a great opportunity for me to understand product market fit. And one of the things that we realized pretty quickly is that we had, was more of a feature than a product. So, we decided to merge with another company, which we did, and I exited there and decided to take a little bit of time off. And then I heard about it, the ControlScan opportunity. I was approached about the opportunity and decided to join ControlScan. So, the ControlScan experience has been wonderful. I didn’t expect I would be there over 10 years, but I was, and it was a great opportunity to form a really great team to transform and pivot a business into an area that had not been before. And for me to be part of the payment space, this was really my first opportunity in the payment space.

Greg:

Okay, great. What’s interesting. I wanted to talk a little bit about is when you had that question and, you know, would you take on the role as president and your first thought was all the reasons that you couldn’t do it, but you went for it. I mean, I think that’s, that’s something, part of this podcast is I want to help people learn and be better in their careers and be more successful. And I think that’s a great point where you said I’m going for it. I’m going to do this. Even though you knew there were things that you didn’t know how to do. I just think that’s a great moment in sort of a learning point for people.

Joan:

Yes, absolutely. In fact, it’s one of the best pieces of advice that I often give to people because I believe taking risks is so important in life. And if you can accept the worst case, which for me would have been, to have been fired, which would have taken my career in a, I’m sure a very different trajectory. I accepted that, but in the end it worked out great. And we ended up with a very successful exit, which obviously is what your investors are looking for. And I think the employees as well.

Greg:

Sure, sure. Obviously, you’ve been very successful throughout your career. So, what are some of your guiding principles?

Joan:

We just touched on the number one guiding principle, which is say yes, raise your hand. You know, there are people that talk about having career plans and have their sights on something ahead of them and know very clearly what they want to do. I was not that person. I actually didn’t think that I would ever work full-time or certainly in the capacity that I did. You know, I kind of envision my life as a mother and working part-time to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, but the opportunities took me in another direction. And I think I never, as I said, had aspirations to be a CEO. I’m not saying that anyone shouldn’t have a plan because plans work well for some people. But for me it was just seeing opportunities and saying yes to them and envisioning myself being successful in them.

So that’s the number one piece of advice. I think the other thing, especially for a woman is to help other women. You know, it’s funny, I’ve seen throughout my career that it’s often other women who sabotage their fellow women. And I think that’s something we need to be very intentional about to make an effort, to always put the best foot forward to network, to take calls from, to mentor other women, to help them along the way. And I think in doing that, you’re doing it for someone else and you may not see immediate benefit to yourself, but it pays back in many, many ways throughout your career. And the last thing I’d say, which I think I learned a little bit late, although not too late is to network with passion. I love networking. Now. I probably meet with two to three people a week. And when I’m helping people, I always ask them about the strength of their network. And obviously I run across a lot of people who network only when they’re in need. And I think that’s a very dangerous position to put yourself in number one. And you miss out on so much because there are so many wonderful people out there. So, I’d say network and get involved in organizations where you can serve as a volunteer, your network will grow tremendously as a result.

Greg:

Absolutely. So, we’ve started to talk a little bit about it. Let’s dive in a little more and talk specifically about the payments industry and women leaders. Specifically, what letter grade would you give the industry and why letter grades

Joan:

Really hard for me to assign here, but if you’re pressing me, I probably say a C minus to a C I think we’re making progress. And in fact, I know that we are, there is a study by McKinsey and Company called the “Women in the Workplace” and Wnet partners with them on the last couple of surveys that they’ve done. But the survey’s pretty interesting because they’ve been doing it for five years. And in terms of the progress over the last five years, they’ve saw improvement in the C suite in terms of women engaging or being part of the C suite. I think it went from like 17% to 23% over that five-year period. However, what’s interesting to me and I never really thought about is that women are underrepresented at all other levels. This includes entry level positions that women occupy, but probably the biggest issue is the first or the second rung on the ladder, which means going from entry level work to a managerial position, women are still, you know, vastly underrepresented there. And that of course affects the pipeline. You know, as we’ve moved toward the top, there are just less women. So, I believe that as people running companies or in positions to hire women into those type of positions, we need to be intentional about making sure that women are considered and have the opportunity to move into those roles.

Greg:

Sure. So you gave a C or C minus and you mentioned, you know, being intentional is something we can maybe do better, but what else could we do better or differently that can get that grade up from a C, which is obviously just average to a much better place.

Joan:

I do think this term being intentional is important and by it, I mean, setting goals and measuring progress. So, I think if we want more women, then we have to expect the people presenting candidates to present a more diverse slate of candidates. All of this takes mindfulness. We have to be aware of it. And it’s also harder work. And I think for the hiring manager, it’s probably in some ways, somewhat uncomfortable because we all know we have unconscious bias. We’re more likely to hire people like us. So, we really have to push hard. And as we do that, as we become more intentional, as we begin to hire people who are unlike us, it will start to become more natural. And so, I think we’re in a period where organizations are awakening to this, not just with women, but in terms of race as well. And, you know, I think we’ll begin and continue to see progress.

Greg:

Yeah. When do you think these things will happen in a much broader way?

Joan:

You know, that if I knew that that’s a million dollar question, but it’s happened so slowly, I’ve been working with the computer science department at the University of Kentucky for a number of years on their advisory council. And we often look at the number of women in computer science because it’s a really interesting indicator of how involved women are in sciences. And I was speaking to the Dean last week and he actually said that the other disciplines, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, they have a very healthy percentage of women in computer science. It’s been hovering around 17 to 20% for many, many years. And so, all of this is about building a pipeline and from the computer science perspective, it has to do with introducing girls and boys to STEM as early as possible so they can understand that this is not just a men only kind of thing. I do think again, there’s so much awareness being built right now. And so many discussions being had at the senior levels, even, you know, I see this in the payment space as well, working with some of our board members and understanding what’s happening within their companies. So, I believe that as time goes on the change.

Greg:

Okay. Yeah, I totally agree. And I sure hope it does. And there’s so many messages out there today. It’s, you know, how do you keep that consistent drum beat of messages about STEM and, you know, it’s like, I kind of feel like you hear about it for a concentrated amount of time and then it kind of tapers off and then you hear about it again. So, it seems like we’ve got to figure out how to get that consistent message out there and build that pipeline like you said. So that kind of leads to the next question. And I go back, I started in payments 15 years ago and I sort of just fell into it. It wasn’t like you said, I didn’t a career plan and I didn’t say, “oh, payments is an industry I want to be in.” I just sort of fell into it.

And I hear that from a lot of people, but I think that’s changed a little bit. I recently looked and saw where Fintech is actually a curriculum now at a lot of colleges you can go learn about and I’ll just put payments and Fintech sort of there together, but you can go and actually learn about it now at the college level, which wasn’t the case before say maybe four or five years ago. So, people now have a desire to be in the industry. There’s been a lot of investment in the industry. It’s gotten a lot of publicity. So, what would your advice be to say a young woman coming right out of college? They’re thinking about getting into the payments industry. What would you tell them?

Joan:

Well, first of all, it’s a wonderful industry. I think there are so many paths forward that you would never stagnate in an industry like this. There are also many supportive organizations like Wnet where you can find resources and help as you want to advance your career. And also mentors. I would say that for a young woman entering the workforce, I would not limit working for an early stage company. I know we often see people going into very large companies and then kind of finding a path that way, but I would open your mind to working for smaller companies as well as larger companies. And I would try to make sure that you don’t silo yourself into doing a very narrow scope of job. Sometimes you have to do that as you’re starting out. But I think it’s important, even if you’re doing that to make an effort, to understand the business.

Sometimes when we come into these large organizations, I know for me in my first job at DCA, you know, I understood what I did, but I didn’t really understand how the businesses run, how they make money, how they spend money and how they improved investor value. And I think learning the business makes you a much more valuable employee. So, make sure that you’re not in too much of a silo in terms of your responsibilities. And the second thing, I guess I would say for someone coming in and I think some of the women coming in now are so much better at this. In fact, the way that I got involved in Wnet to begin with was through a couple of young women at ControlScan who started going to the meetings. And they said to me, you really need to get involved in this. But the second piece of advice is to network and volunteer and get involved in organizations, especially at a younger age, it just opens up so many possibilities. And for me in my career, I was lucky enough not to really ever have to look for a job because my network seemed to serve up jobs to me and opportunities. And so I think it’s really important to do that from a young age.

Greg:

Yeah, I think that’s great advice. I hadn’t planned on going down this path, but you brought something up that I found quite interesting is sort of that second rung going from first job into sort of that managerial level. Like there’s a gap there. What can we do to make it, to fill that gap or to make that step for female employees better, easier. I don’t know what the right words are, but sort of that next step up, it seems like there’s some learning that we need to do there to understand why that’s not happening. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Joan:

Well, I think one of them I’ve already touched on, which is we tend not to have as diverse a set of candidates as we could. So, if we make sure for any position that we represent a diverse set of candidates, it will over time ensure that more women, more women of color are included as they move into managerial positions. And I think on the other side, there is a part that women themselves play in their willingness to step into a role that requires more of them. It requires more hours. It may require them to, you know, attend meetings after work. And those kinds of things for women who are running families and have small children are difficult, you know, I certainly faced them. And I think it’s just something that you, you have to do and you have to realize that you can’t have it all. There are sacrifices you have to make, but I believe that in the end, it benefits you to be as well rounded as you can be. And to take those risks for a period of time, people often ask me, what was one of the things that contributed significantly to your success? And the honest answer to that is having a supportive partner who’s willing to take on additional responsibility, certainly equal and sometimes more than equal in order to allow you to take the steps that take more time away from the family.

Greg:

Right. I think we’re going to wrap up with one final topic and I want us to make sure we cover everything we can here because you know, the mission of the Wnet and what I’m trying to do for the, just this one month of the year and raise awareness of women leaders in payments. I mean, obviously there’s some synergies between the two. I really want you to explain the mission of Wnet, what you guys are doing, how people can get involved. Just sort of tell us the Wnet story and I want to make sure we get that out there in front of everyone.

Joan:

Okay. That’s wonderful. And I really appreciate you being one of the people helping raise awareness in this area, it’s initiatives like this that will help accelerate the change that we all want to see happen. Wnet has been around for 15 years. We’re actually starting the year of celebration for our 15-year history. So that’s awesome. We had a couple of founders who had the idea to develop an organization that would empower women. And that has been our mission from the very beginning. I think our initial focus was working with the women directly and offering programs that would help them through some of the tougher parts of their career. We have a mentoring program, we have a number of different webinars and events that we hold that provide information anywhere from helping them negotiate salaries, to dealing with difficult people in the workplace. So, you know, we have lots of opportunity like that.

We have an exciting event that’s going to take place on July 21st of this year, which is called PayTech Women Live. And then we were talking, we haven’t talked, but the COVID-19 situation has obviously challenged many nonprofits like Wnet. And we were fortunate enough to get a head start and begin thinking about ways that we could be more nimble during this period. We normally have an annual summit which takes place in September. That is an in person event. And this year we will not hold that event for obvious reasons, but instead we’re launching a series called PayTech Women Live, and we will have our first event on July 21st, it’s a 90 minute virtual event that will feature Sallie Krawcheck, who was involved in a number of financial services companies, including CEO at Smith Barney. She was at Merrill Lynch. So, lots of deep expertise.

And she’s going to talk about women’s leadership and also financial health. How do women stay healthy financially? Financial health for a woman I think opens up so many avenues. So, it’s an important lesson and great information for everyone to hear. So those are some ideas of things that we’re doing within Wnet. The other thing I think has shifts that we’ve made is not only are we working directly with women, but we’re beginning to work more and more with the companies in which these women are employed, helping those companies who often have women’s programs to augment their program and to engage men within the organizations. There are many men, we have advocates within Wnet who are passionate about this challenge and want to be involved in bringing about change. So, we do have a number of male members of Wnet and we find their support and building awareness among them also an important mission for us.

Greg:

Great. So Joan, we’ve covered a lot of ground today from your background, your career, some of your advice for success, and then obviously Wnet, is there anything else you wanted to discuss or talk about that we haven’t covered today?

Joan:

We’ve done a great job in covering lots of areas. So I feel like you’ve done a really good job and I appreciate the only thing I would leave with is there are people who give lip service to the idea of advancing women within the payment space. And I encourage people to not just say the words, but actually find ways to do something. And the easiest way to do that is to make sure that you’re available for other women when they call on you, even when it’s not something that you think will directly benefit you, that’s where the goodness comes from. Right? Well, if someone wants to get involved in the Wnet, what would be the easiest way for them to go to our website? And there are ways for what you can see pretty quickly, the events that take place, I would recommend that they attend an event or two.

We have chapters in many local areas. Now they’re being conducted via Zoom. So, come to one of those meetings or a couple of them and begin to meet some of the other women who are participants and then become a member and start to participate in committees. And you’ll meet women from across the industry that you would have never had the opportunity to meet. 

Greg:

Great. Well, Joan, I thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate you being on the show. 

Joan:

Absolutely. Thank you. 

Greg:

And to all your other listeners out there, I thank you for your time as well. And until the next story,

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