Meet Brendan Tansill, EVP Business Development and chief strategy officer at EVO Payments International. Overseeing all global mergers and acquisitions activity, corporate strategy and national sales accounts for EVO puts Tansill in an unusual position to observe the relationship between innovation and a company’s strategic mission. In the latest installment of PYMNTS.com’s Commander in Chief Series, Tansill discusses how strategy fuels innovation in payments and not the other way around.
What does a day in the life of a Chief Strategy Officer look like?
It’s mostly about execution, which seems like a weird thing for a strategy guy to be doing. But that’s really what I do. And that can run the gamut – from hands-on management of the relationships with financial institutions that have already agreed to partner with us, or identifying new financial institutions in new markets that represent attractive partnership candidates for us – and then sorting out how to best approach them.
My days also start early! I’m on the phone generally pretty early given the time difference between my office in New York and our European offices where much of our expansion activity has been taking place here lately.
What is the most difficult part of your job and why?
Strategy sits at the core of a successful company, and therefore requires participation or buy-in from all segments of its operations. Product, sales, risk, finance, technology and legal, among others, must share in the strategic vision. We’re pretty collaborative too, which means driving towards consensus which can take time. But we genuinely feel that getting buy-in across the various internal stakeholders enhances the probability of success since it drives greater commitment within leadership across the various functional areas of the company.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
Get out and meet even more people face to face.
I do a lot of this already because I am strongly of the opinion that business is best conducted in person – that messaging and communication are best achieved with eye contact and direct, personal interaction. It’s critical that our strategic partners understand and appreciate that we care about them and that is sometimes hard to do over the phone, even when video is involved.
I also believe the only way to identify future partners is to meet them face-to-face in their home market, where relationships can form and begin to grow. And since EVO has ambitions to operate in every significant payments market in the world, I have a feeling that I am going to be spending a lot of time away from home and from my other professional responsibilities, going forward. But I strongly believe that, when it’s all said and done, it will be well worth it.
What is the most important strategic consideration for CSOs in payments and commerce today and why?
Strategy is fundamentally a forward looking concept and payments, perhaps more so than any other industry in which I have spent time, changes at an incredible rate. Consumers are constantly looking for more convenient and secure modes of payment. Electronic payments have migrated from almost exclusively point-of-sale to the massive emergence of eCommerce to the adoption of alternative payment tools (i.e., smartphones) and integrated point-of-sale solutions.
The question for payments companies is what role they choose to play in innovation. We firmly believe that our merchant customers are best served by being the best possible partner for our fellow payments companies. We have made significant investments to ensure that other companies, many with very exciting product offerings that are heavily valued by merchants, can quickly and securely integrate to EVO’s payments infrastructure and make their solutions available to our nearly 500,000 merchant customers around the world. It is impossible for one company to do it all, and we believe that having a culture of collaboration is beneficial to EVO, our payments partners, and most especially our merchant customers.
Strategy is only as good as its execution. What do you do in order to ensure that your ideas don’t collect dust on the virtual bookshelves of executive management?
Great question! And, it’s why I spend a lot of time getting my hands dirty with execution.
Communication is key. We have weekly executive meetings among the senior leadership at EVO to ensure that we are all firmly aligned in our thinking and what we expect to accomplish during the week. This is standard practice across most companies. Perhaps more unusually, we have biannual meetings in which our business leaders from all of our global operations convene at our office in New York to share ideas to make EVO a better company. For example, we think it is critical that our leadership in Ireland meet with our leadership in Poland to discuss products that are gaining traction with customers, emerging technologies, and general industry trends. Finally, in my capacity as the steward of Strategy, I also sit on the boards of all of our international operations to ensure that my learnings from one market are readily communicated to other markets. As I mentioned, this requires lots of travel, but the time investment is more than compensated for in the resulting strength of our company.
What is the biggest strategic blunder you’ve observed over the years and what would you have done if you were in charge?
To be a good partner, a level of humility is of critical importance. Case in point – as an international company, we emphasize local leadership. Every market in which we operate is run by highly talented executives that are native to that market, and ideally have a historical relationship with our partners there. I have seen multinational companies take the opposite approach, exporting talent from their home market. Some executives prefer to have “trusted eyes and ears on the ground.” I believe EVO has been successful, in part, because we have empowered talented people who understand the markets in which they operate and we have supported them by providing guidance and sharing our experiences from other markets around the world.
What is the most strategic decision you’ve made today?
I am answering this question from a plane, flying to meet senior management of a very exciting prospective partner for EVO in a market that has long been a core target of ours. Developing relationships takes time and requires commitment, and trips like these are absolutely critical to the successful future expansion of EVO Payments International.