Women Leaders in Payments Roundtable | Episode 29

Welcome to the sixth and final episode of the Women Leaders in Payments month sponsored by Paysafe. 

Greg: 

We have an exciting episode today and a format that we haven’t done before on the show. I’m your host, Greg Myers, and this is the final week and the final episode, episode 29 of the Women Leaders in Payments month sponsored by Paysafe. This episode is a round table discussion, featuring three women leaders in payments. They are Denise Tahali, the SVP of Sales at Paysafe; Debbie Guera, the EVP of On- Demand Merchant Solutions at ACI Worldwide and Lue Ann Alexander, Chief Product Officer at Early Warning. They each bring their own unique perspective of women leadership in our industry right now, as well as provide some great insights, views, and advice on leadership. We’ve got a great discussion today. So let’s get started.

Greg: 

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Women Leaders in Payments month. This is our roundtable, and first we’re going to do a quick introduction. So why don’t you guys tell the audience just a quick overview of who you are, what your current role is, and a little bit about your company. Maybe keep it to two or three minutes and Debbie, let’s start with you. 

Debbie:

Well, thanks Greg. Hi everyone. I’m Debbie Guerra. I’m an Executive Vice President with ACI Worldwide. I have responsibility at ACI for our merchant and payment intelligence business globally. ACI is I would say a mainstay in the payment solutions provider space with more than 45 years delivering payment software solutions to merchants, financial institutions, country infrastructures, and really focus on supporting real-time payments, retail payments for banks, immediate payments, omni-commerce, and security commerce for our customer. So just a extensive experience in the payments space and continuing to evolve to address what is a really a rapidly changing industry.

Greg:

Great. Thank you, Debbie. Let’s move on to you Lue Ann. 

Lou Ann:

Hi. Thanks Greg. I’m Lue Ann Alexander. I’m the Chief Product Officer at Early Warning Services. Early Warning is a bank owned collaboration. It’s owned by seven of the largest financial institutions in the industry that we do business with more than 1000 financial institutions. Our legacy is 30 year history in the fraud and risk management space specializing in new account opening as well as payment risks. And more recently Early Warning is more well-known I would say for the launch of the Zelle Network in both the P2P services, small business and disbursement payments that we support through Zelle. 

Greg:

Great, thank you, Lue Ann and over to you, Denise.

Denise:

Well, hi everyone. I’m Denise Tahali and I’m the Senior Vice President of Partner Sales here at Paysafe. I lead our third party sales team, so that would include our ISO and our agent channels. And then I also have petroleum card services where we specialize in petroleum and fleet card payments. Prior to Paysafe, we were iPayment where we were acquired in 2018. So for Paysafe really, we’re a leading specialized payments company and we have over 3000 employees globally. We have about 800 employees here in the states and we are a top five non-bank processor. So we have over 200,000 merchants processing on multiple platforms. We do specialize in payment processing, but we’re also leaders in integrated payments. We have digital wallets, our petroleum and gaming as well. And appreciate you having me here today. Thanks for the listeners for tuning in.

Greg:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Denise and a special thank you to PaySafe – who’s actually sponsoring this whole month and really helping to make this happen. So let’s dive right in Debbie, let’s start with you. Can you name a person who has been a mentor to you who has made a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did that person maybe impact your life and your career?

Debbie:

You know, and let me give you a little background too. You know, I, I was fortunate to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, an institution that is known for developing leaders of character and had some time in the military. And as you can imagine that I probably have a store of different leadership experiences I could share from there. But when I think about my business career, there was really a turning point in my career, right around 2004, where a woman named Sue Watts who encountered me through a talent review that occurred as part of the company that I was working with at the time. And she took a chance on me based upon the conversations that occurred as a result of that talent review to offer me my first full profit and loss leadership role. That was also a global assignment in Brazil.

And this was at the time in a company focused in the IT services and outsourcing space. And I would tell you that what was really interesting about her in that choice is she didn’t just make the selection, but she took on the role of acting as a mentor, teaching me the ropes, really spending a lot of time and helping to develop me in becoming the type of leader for what was really a $350 million business with about 1300 employees in country. And, you know, and, and she was tough, fair, very focused on data driven decisions, really understanding the business, the financials, but also working compassionately and building strong teams with good talent. And I would tell you, it was a turning point in my career, but it was also a learning opportunity for me as a leader where I was able to learn from my boss, but also to kind of look up to her and understand how I wanted to evolve in the future. So it was one of those situations where it was another woman who really influenced me at a, I would say a critical point in my career.

Greg:

Great, thanks Debbie. And thank you for your service to our country. Appreciate that. And let’s move on to Lou Ann with a different question. What is one characteristic that you believe every woman leader should possess?

Lou Ann:

So Greg, sometimes I feel that female counterparts are less willing to put ourselves out there. And sometimes we feel that we add less value than our male counterparts and many times because they’re in senior position. So I think the one characteristic that I believe is important is courage. It’s courage to speak up. It’s courage to challenge all norms. It’s courage to create change, it’s courage to be bold and to take on new challenges. It’s courage to have a point of view. So I really think it’s thinking of ourselves in a way that provides that courage to act as opposed to stand back like many of us sometimes do.

Greg:

Yeah. Thanks for that. I think, you know, I’ve done several of these interviews already this month and all focused on women leaders in payments, and that idea of courage has come up multiple times. So I think that is definitely one of the characteristics that every woman leader should definitely have. And it has definitely resonated with the other conversations that I’ve had. So Denise, over to you, what do you think is the biggest challenge that is facing women today or women leaders today? What’s the biggest challenge?

Denise:

You know, I, I think it’s about changing the mindset and to really stop thinking about gender or race and just to be a good leader. I don’t think, you know, not to think about yourself as a female leader, but really just a leader. If you’re, if you don’t differentiate. I don’t think that others do either. I’ve been fortunate in my career working for a lot of different people and most of it’s in processing and whether it’s a Paysafe or First Data or SunTrust, I’ve had the pleasure of working in both in the US and overseas, never, never had a diversity issue. And I think it’s because I see myself as the right person for the job. And I just try to set myself up to do the best I can. And so people should really work for companies who are supportive of you and recognize people for the job that they do and the value that they bring as opposed to their race or their gender.

Greg:

Great. Thanks, Denise, let’s go back to you Lou Ann. There’s more and more women, I think in leadership positions for the first time in our industry. And you know, I talk often about advice for people coming right out of college, but I want to kind of reframe this question about what your advice be to someone who, to a female who has now taken maybe that next step and is now leading a team or leading a big initiative. So they’ve got more visibility and they’re sort of stepping up in their career. What would your advice be to someone like that?

Lou Ann:

So, I’m going to use the term mentorship that maybe in a way, a different way than most people would think of that. And throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to be part of formal mentorship programs. Many of those male counterparts who have enabled me to advance through organizations as well as see ways that I can change my approaches to meetings, identification of issues by reading people. But I’m really not talking about those formal mentorship programs. I think each of us in life, as well as in our professional lives should seek mentorship. And that might look like seeking out a peer, a counterpart, maybe a direct report who’s able to observe you in those critical moments in time where leadership is important and be able to help you identify things that you could have done better or different ways to approach that. So being very open to that, but establishing those informal mentorships with both senior people, peers, and as well as those that might be in the ranks in your teams so that you can see the things that maybe you don’t observe for yourself. 

Greg:

Great. Thanks Lue Ann. I think that was some solid advice. And certainly another theme that seems to carry through most of these conversations is the idea of mentorship. Debbie, let’s go over to you. What are a few resources that you would recommend to an aspiring female looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Debbie:

It’s a great question. And you know, sometimes when we hear that question, you think of resources as something as basic as taking a class or going to a networking event. But I would tell you that I think that there’s a lot that an individual can do to build your leadership capabilities on your own. You know, first take on additional assignments, build your own network, not necessarily just externally, but internally be part of an extended team, learn how to influence others that may not report to you, but with whom you may have shared goals. I think it’s also important to speak up and be visible, kind of going back to Lou Ann’s comment early on is have a voice, be heard, take something on and build the teams that you work with. And that is almost the most practical way to get the experience that’s necessary for you to be observed by others to get that chance to step into that next role and to also build some critical skills.

I think, you know, one thing that we see right now is that the pace of change, whether it’s in the payments industry or just in the world in general, is very rapid. And, you know, in leaders today really are leading through a certain level of uncertainty. And so you need to have a strong toolkit that you can rely on, whether it’s optimism, empathy, courage, integrity, competence, humility, humor, and be able to pull those out at the right time. So I think you have to practice that along the way. And that would be the, probably the first piece of advice that I’d give a young woman looking to do more and to develop her leadership skills.

Greg:

Great. Great. Thanks Debbie. Denise. Well, you’ve led teams over the years, sales teams and other teams, I’m sure. And you obviously have to continue to grow and develop as a leader. So what do you do to ensure that you are growing and that you’re getting better and developing more and more as a leader?

Denise:

Well, you know, I actually do a couple of things, but one of the things I feel strongly about is practicing what I call looking under the hood and Zig Ziglar used to phrase, inspect what you expect and as leaders I think we need to do that. It’s all about communicating with your teams. An example is I have regularly scheduled one on ones with everybody on my team, but then I also believe in having one level down. So you speak with your direct’s direct, and you know, obviously that’s time consuming, but I really think that it’s worth it because you get to listen and you get to ask questions and you learn a great deal about your teams, but also what they need to do to succeed and develop. And by helping them, obviously that helps you as a leader as well. One of the best practices here at Paysafe is we have a manager effectiveness survey and all 3000 employees complete. It’s a confidential survey on their management twice a year. And you know, it has several different questions about leadership qualities. And would you recommend your manager to other people. And, you know, it provides some managers with some pretty candid feedback and put that in your indifferent, it’s their team’s perception with them as a leader. So it can be rewarding, but it can also be a wake-up call to improve. And so that’s a few things that worked for me over the years. I think it’s something that everybody should consider.

Greg:

Great. Thank you for that. Now we’re going to talk a little bit more specifically about just the payment industry and I think Debbie, we’re going to go to you first. What letter grade would you give the industry as far as how well we’re doing regarding equality of women leaders in the industry? So kind of a two part question. What letter grade would you give the industry and why?

Debbie:

I think it would be maybe a B minus trending up. And the reason for that would be is I think that there is not as much representation of female leaders in key business and technical roles as we would like to see, but it is improving, you know, in my company, we have several women at the top leading our data center, myself, leading a segment, others leading our global growth regions. So, you know, we have a lot a good representation, but I don’t think that that is the norm necessarily in the payments industry in general, which I think historically has been very male dominated. That said, I think that we have a emerging group of young women that have filled a variety of roles in the business that are making their way up the ranks. And so I would say B minus trending up because I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to continue changing the participation at the top. And I think it’s part of our responsibility is to help lead the way and open the doors and make opportunities available for those young women as they come forward. Sure.

Greg:

Sure, what do you think we can do as an industry to make it, to get that B minus up to an A or an A plus.

Debbie:

Sure. I mean, you know, and I had mentioned talent reviews. We have formal talent review forums. I think those are a great tool to really look not just to, you know, at leadership opportunities in general, but also to profile women, to profile and look for more diversity in our choices. And I think it’s a great way to ensure that we are opening the doors and thinking critically as leaders in the business and bringing people forward. And I think, you know, and then there’s always making sure that we’re not just stepping into often what it might be an easy decision, but having a full slate of candidates for open roles and being critical about how the strength of whether it’s gender diversity, race diversity, age diversity, experience diversity, how that makes our team stronger, you know, as we staff key roles.

Greg:

Great. Thanks for that. Lou Ann same question for you. What letter grade would you give the industry and why?

Lou Ann:

So, I’m going to be a little harsher of a grader. I think of our industry as it’s financial, it’s technology and its payments, but I would give us a D and you might think of that as if it’s an elective for your degree it might be okay. But if it’s part of the core curriculum, it’s not going to get you a degree. So a D rating, and truly, I think, as we look around to boards, CEOs, chief technology officers, or the execs that are in charge of payments, there still is a misfit of the ratio of women in those industries to women in those key roles. You know, I’ll call out Jane Larimer, who’s CEO of NACHA, Nandita CEO at Bank of the West, Colleen Taylor, EVP, Head of Merchant Services at Wells Fargo as very few examples of women that I see in critical key roles.

And some of it comes from our courage to speak out, but as you’re asking, you know, what can we do better in the industry? I think it’s no different than any other diversity and inclusion program. I don’t think we can be gender blind. And I don’t think that we can be race blind. I think it’s challenges when we picked some people who are similar to us and background and thought and or race or gender, I think it takes very cognizant of change and observations and challenges to what’s happening in order to create that change. I would like to see the entire industry take a different look at women, different, look at race and start to truly challenge our norms and create change.

Greg:

Great. I think that’s a great answer, Denise, let’s go over to you. Same question. What letter grade would you give the industry and why?

Denise:

Well, I’m actually right in the middle there between the Lou Ann and Debbie and I gave us a C plus, and I agree there are still a lot of women in middle management roles and that needs still need to take the leap up to senior management levels. Companies need to commit to diversity inclusion and hold themselves accountable and really lead by example. Right? So I Paysafe, we have three women on our executive leadership team. They’re leading integrated payments, marketing, and even our chief of staff is a female. So, you know, we have a targeted company goals for improving our diversity and we really are striving to be a market leader for it. I think when every company commits to such a goal and really communicates it and stands by it, that’s where we’re really going to see a difference in the industry. But until that time, I think that’s a nice to have, I think we’re getting better. We have a lot of work to do, but I would encourage folks to step up. And again, going back to my original thought, just think of yourself as a leader and not a female leader.

Greg:

All right, great. So I think we’re going to go around the room one more time and we’re going to wrap up just with, I’m going to allow you guys sort of to have the floor, if there’s anything related to your career, a personal story, or related to what your company is doing, something that you guys feel maybe will resonate with our female audience about women leaders. And it could be an example of for yourself or someone else, but maybe just an example or something that you just want to kind of a final word to the audience from a female leadership position perspective. So I think Debbie, we’ll start with you.

Debbie:

Sure. I think that we really have to have a focus for women understanding the voice and the power they have and how important it is to show up. I know that that has probably come through with several of the comments that have been made before, but in order to do that, though, you have to first listen, you have to learn, you have to really know how to build your own stakeholder network. And then based upon just those intrinsic qualities, it gives you an opportunity to really make meaningful contributions, meaningful statements to guide teams. But in order to do that, you’ve got to show up and you have to have a voice. And I think for me, that’s one of the most important things that women, as they’re on that leadership journey really have understand. 

Greg: 

Great, thanks. And over to you Lua Ann. 

Lou Ann: 

Sure. My recent observations in our own company and we have six of our 11 executives are female, but we have a thousand people in our company.

And I think the mark of a true leader is being able to tap potential in your team that they never thought you could tap to lead them in a way that they can achieve new goals, that they can achieve things that they never felt possible. And I think truly that is the true mark of a leader is not necessarily just in your own ability to bring forth new ideas, but in your ability to build a team and empower that team with the right authority, the right resources, so that they can do things they never thought they could before. And again, every individual being able to say that they were advanced in their career, they achieved goals they didn’t think that they can achieve. And generally because of the structure and leadership that was in place above them. 

Greg:

Great. Great, thank you so much. And Denise, over to you. 

Denise:

I encourage people to step up and you raise your hand, you know, get a seat at that table. Middle management is great, but senior leadership is better and just do your best to be a role model. I truly believe if you help others succeed, that you will succeed and, you know, showing people that you’re willing, you’re capable and you’re committed to do the job. And I think you’ll win and you know, the best advice is to just step up and you are to be considered a candidate and to show your 

Greg:

Great, Great. So Debbie, Lou Ann, Denise, thank you all for being here at anyone, have any other closing comments or thoughts they wanted to share? Okay. Well, I appreciate your time very much. And I thank you for being here and to all you listeners out there. I thank you for your time as well. And until the next story..

Thank you for joining us this week on the leaders in payments podcast, make sure you visit our website@leadersinpayments.com, where you can subscribe to the show and where you’ll find our show notes. If you enjoyed listening, please share on your social channels as well.

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