Setting the course Featured

6:25am EDT August 29, 2006
When the eCommerce branch of National Data Corp. spun off on its own in 2001, Paul Garcia named the company Global Payments Inc., despite the fact that the company did not operate globally. Garcia, president and CEO of the new entity, had big plans for the company and knew it could grow into its name.

“We were not Global Payments when we spun,” says Garcia, who is now also chairman. “That name was a little presumptuous. U.S. Payments would have been closer to the truth.”

But Garcia had a plan to grow Global Payments worldwide and take it above and beyond what it was when it was part of National Data Corp., where the company had reached a standstill.

“We were struggling a little bit, quite frankly, in terms of growing the company,” says Garcia. “We were mid-$300 million in terms of revenues. But, the company had some core products and some core people that I believed we could build upon.”

The company needed a clear mission to establish an identity of its own and give employees direction.

“The first thing we did was to establish a vision for the company, which was to be the leader in the delivery of payments and associated information,” says Garcia. “I’m pleased to say we did that from the very beginning, and over the course of the next five years, we haven’t changed that vision, and everything we’ve done has been payments-related.”

Garcia wanted his vision to be clear and concise so that employees could remember it and relate to it. He also wanted to leave room for the company to grow, while also being clear about where it was not going.

“If, all of the sudden, we decided to get into another business line that doesn’t have anything to do with payments or associated information with payments, I think it would be fair for my board or my investors or executives or employees to say, ‘Whoa, that is a divergence from our vision,’” says Garcia.

The vision creates a framework so that people understand what they’re striving to accomplish.

“Everyone wants to have an idea of what they are to do every day and how their piece fits in,” says Garcia. “It’s not getting people to buy into the vision that’s the hard part; it’s to make people feel that what they’re doing is intricate to the success of the total. And the bigger the company, the harder it is.”

Garcia makes employees feel that their role in the company is intricate to its success by giving them something meaningful to do and explaining why it is meaningful.

“And that, I think, is the key to success, is making everyone buy in to not just the vision but their piece of the vision, whether they’re answering the phone for a customer or sweeping the floors or are a senior level executive in the company,” says Garcia. “I want everyone here to feel as though what they are doing is important, and it is. We have 4,200 employees now living in 20 countries around the world, but we’re not that big that you could come here and not be productive because we need everyone to come to work every day and accomplish what they need to accomplish for us to be successful.”

No one ever wants to feel that their role in a company is meaningless, regardless of what they do. Garcia stresses to his employees the importance of their positions and how it affects the company.

“Take the time to say, ‘Look, I know you are answering phones over there, or you’re the switchboard operator over there, but that is very important, and here’s why,’” says Garcia. “They understand that. I think that goes a long way toward making them successful and making you successful and making them feel good about what they do.”

Value proposition
With a strong, concise vision in place, Garcia created five values the company would operate around: Treat all with respect and dignity; delight customers; reward accomplishments while encouraging creativity; embrace meaningful change; and have fun.

“The values are all really straightforward,” says Garcia. “The only one that might be tough for people is embracing meaningful change.”

To get people to embrace change, Garcia constantly explains that without change, the company can’t grow.

“Change is very unsettling for everyone,” says Garcia. “Every change that we go through is a bit of a trauma, because it’s different and we are all creatures of habit. Our world is all about change. Business culture is all about change. The most important thing to understand about change is that with change comes opportunity. If everything was exactly the same, then there wouldn’t be opportunities created.”

Besides telling employees about the vision and values, Garcia communicates to them in writing and devises a new theme each year to re-emphasize the vision and values. Letters are sent to employees’ homes discussing the new theme and reminding employees of the importance of the company’s vision and values. Posters are put up around the office and employees receive wallet cards with the vision and values.

Foreign culture
As Global Payments has expanded internationally, spreading the message about the company’s values has become more difficult due to cultural differences.

“In the former Soviet Union countries, slogans are not well received,” says Garcia. “We have to be cautious about our colleagues in Moscow and our colleagues in Prague, in particular. You don’t just roll out slogans. You have to get more to the core of what you’re trying to communicate. They’re not real big about putting posters all over. It’s too much of a throwback. So you have to be sensitive to that.

“Secondly, you have to make sure the translation is appropriate. ‘Have fun’ is a tough thing to translate. It could be translated into something frivolous. Or it could be totally watered down where it reduces the impact. So we spend some time understanding that.”

Garcia also spends a lot of time understanding his employees’ and customers’ various cultures. Global Payments partners with a company that is native to the area it is expanding into, which Garcia says is key to expanding internationally. Companies sometimes fail when trying to expand internationally because they go into a new country with American-centric eyes and don’t consider that what is appropriate in the United States may not be appropriate elsewhere.

“There is a different relationship between an employee and an employer,” says Garcia. “And there are, many times, very different rules on how you conduct yourself. There are governmental regulations that are peculiar to each country. You have to go in with your eyes wide open. You have to do a lot of listening.

“You have to find a good partner who has been there, who knows the geography and is willing to have a true partnership with you where you do what you do well, and they help you with all of those other pieces. The worst thing you can do is go in thinking you know everything and you’re going to teach them how to do it. That usually ends in disaster.”

Garcia allows and even encourages different offices to operate in different ways according to their local customs. For example, employees in the Czech Republic have draft beer in their cafeteria.

“That’s their culture,” says Garcia. “It would be inappropriate for us to say, ‘That’s not what we do here.’ It’s what they do there, and they don’t abuse it. Very few people even take advantage of it, but it’s there. What we wouldn’t tolerate is if we didn’t think they were treating their people with respect and dignity or they weren’t delighting their customers or embracing change. That’s different.”

In some cases, cultural differences mean walking away from potential business.

“In some countries, people offer (bribes),” says Garcia. “Well, that is expressly against the law in our country. You’re not to do it, and we don’t do it. And if we have to walk away from business, then so be it. We walk away from business.”

Garcia encourages all employees to keep the company’s five values in mind when doing business internationally, because even though it’s important to embrace cultural differences, employees should never go against the company’s core values.

“There’s a difference between cultural differences and things that are just wrong,” says Garcia.

The value of honesty
Despite all of Garcia’s efforts to openly communicate to his employees and accept their differences, he knows there are going to be times when he makes mistakes. The important thing is that he never strays from his values.

“Nobody is perfect,” says Garcia. “I think that if people just fundamentally think that you’re fair and honest, they’re going to give you a break. That’s why our jury systems work. If you take 12 people with varying degrees of sophistication and education, they can, at the end of the day, usually get to the truth of the matter.

“People know intuitively if what you are telling them is honest and if you’re fair yourself. They’ll internalize that and it will really make them feel good about working for a group that really respects me, is doing their best to reward me. They might make a mistake from time to time, but that’s all it is.”

Garcia’s strategy of staying focused on his vision and values has allowed the company to grow into its name. He’s taken what was once a $300 million company and grown it into a $900 million company with a large presence in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia, and Garcia expects that presence to continue to grow.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” says Garcia. “This company has a huge amount of growth in front of it. And I, quite frankly, believe our best years are absolutely to come.”

HOW TO REACH: Global Payments Inc., (800) 560-2960 or www.globalpaymentsinc.com