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The Green Sheet Online Edition

July 13, 2020 • Issue 20:07:01

Payments titan O.B. Rawls retires

Friends and colleagues around the world heralded O.B. Rawls IV on June 25, 2020, as news of his retirement rippled across the payments ecosystem. Rawls, whose career spanned four decades and multiple industry sectors, drew praise for his corporate stewardship, most recently as CEO of global payment processing at Paysafe Group. Representatives from merchant acquiring, the healthcare industry, manufacturing and supply chain distribution channels described Rawls as a down-to-earth manager who cares about people and builds strong teams.

Philip McHugh, CEO of Paysafe Group, commended Rawls' contributions to Paysafe and the payments sphere, stating, "His knowledge, reputation and professional network were, and are, massively beneficial for Paysafe." Rawls thanked McHugh and Paysafe for the rewarding opportunity the company presented to him. "I've had the great pleasure of working in payments and financial services industries for the past 40 years, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it," he added. "I'm excited about the next chapter of my life: retirement."

Partner and friend

McHugh was president of merchant solutions at TSYS when he met Rawls in 2019, whom he described as a likeable guy and tough negotiator. At the time, Rawls was president of iPayment, a TSYS customer. The two executives instantly clicked, according to McHugh.

"I may not be as Southern as O.B., but I've got a little Southern in me, having grown up in South Carolina, and we had that in common, which was really nice," McHugh said. "We also had instant rapport and understood the issues, which made for easygoing conversations."

Rapport deepened when McHugh became CEO at Paysafe Group, parent company of iPayment, in May 2019. McHugh described the executive team as a fun, creative, high-energy group that appreciated Rawls' expertise and knowledge of the U.S. market.

"We had challenges with the iPayment integration," McHugh noted. "But I always say it's easy to run a company when everything is working. We stayed open and transparent, working through the issues together. He's one of my favorite people to work with and partner with, period."

Panoramic industry view

Throughout his leadership at First Data, Hypercom, CareData.com, Unified Merchant Services and Bank of America, Rawls observed payments' transformative digital journey.

"Early in my career, a senior manager said, 'This has been a good year where we all drink from the same cup,'" Rawls said. "I've always liked that idea, that in good times and bad, we just lock arms and take this journey together."

Selling processing in the industry's early days involved convincing people to replace cash, Rawls stated. Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) promoted the concept that cash shrinks, and the longer it stays in the cash drawer, the more you risk losing it to employee error and theft.

"Over time, the stories we'd tell about credit card processing just got better and better," Rawls said. "Conversations evolved from, 'Hey, I can help you prevent check losses and security violations' to showing small business owners how to be like Amazon by selling anything to anyone, anytime. Today's stories are about growing your business; it's been proven that payments acceptance grows businesses."

Better tools

Selling tools evolved from demo bags and three-ring binders, Rawls observed. "We called the binders brag books," he said. "Each time agents sold processing services, they'd try to get a letter of recommendation. They'd put these letters in their binders and show them to the business owner two doors down, saying, 'We do business with Joe, and he gave us this endorsement.' I thought that was a pretty cool way to sell, back then."

Rawls remembered data entry teams keying small business listings from phonebooks into Excel. Over time, internet marketing replaced spreadsheets and CD-ROMs. Today's world still has acquisition costs but it's different for the feet on the street, he noted, because we do everything electronically. We still serve the last mile, but with smarter technology and bundled services.

"Terminals like Clover can help merchants manage payroll, time and attendance, and accounting," Rawls said. "MLSs were formerly paid upfront for equipment leases and credit card acceptance. Today they receive recurring revenue for subscription-based services; helping merchants stay in business helps us all grow."

Better skills

We use different tools, but selling hasn't changed, Rawls noted. It's still about listening, solving problems and adding value. In addition to industry knowledge, you need to see around corners. With these abilities, you won't have to accept what life hands you; you can make your own way, he added.

"I'd encourage my teams to invest in their careers, add tools to their toolboxes and read everything they can," Rawls said. "Early in my career, I read every industry trade magazine. Remember, you don't have to outrun the pack; you just have to outrun the people next to you."

Rawls also emphasized the importance of being open to change. He recalled that years ago, fellow executives warned against leaving the safety of the bank where he was employed. Soon after his departure, a financial crisis and electronic banking negatively impacted most of his colleagues. Only one of them retired in Atlanta; everyone else got laid off or terminated because they weren't willing to change, he added.

"Sometimes I think I was more lucky than good," Rawls said. "I stayed focused on what's ahead. So many of us spend time looking behind us. It's good to reflect on lessons learned but we need to keep moving forward."

Career highlights

For Rawls, moving forward means not getting stuck in complicated problems or subpar quarterly earnings. Everyone has a bad quarter, he noted; finish the year right and keep growing. He cited the following career highlights:

  • Unified Merchant Services: The joint venture between NationsBank and First Data created a new aggressive sales model and prototype for First Data bank alliances. "We worked from home to cut expenses and grow the business," Rawls said.
  • Hypercom: Rebuilding Hypercom's global distribution network, buying gateways and facilities and servicing a quarter of a million terminals in Brazil was also fun. Rawls said, "We'd play Johnny Cash's 'I've been everywhere, man' at client events."
  • TASQ: Rawls grew TASQ's wholesale distribution business over a two-year period, "creating a new distribution sales model, not only for terminals but for services as well," he said.
  • iPayment: Taking iPayment from the edge of bankruptcy to profitability while keeping 700 people in jobs was a big deal, Rawls noted. "People didn't understand how precarious it was," he added.
  • Paysafe Group: Rawls described working with Philip McHugh and Paysafe's talented team as a career pinnacle. While he hadn't planned to become CEO of global payments at Paysafe, Rawls said he always planned for growth by making each job better than the previous one.

Lasting heritage

McHugh summarized three defining achievements in Rawls' career:

  • 2019 ETA Distinguished Payments Professional Award: "To be in this industry for a long time, to be successful, to make money but still have great relationships and very high integrity is not easy." McHugh said, adding that Rawls rose through the ranks without causing people to fall by the wayside.
  • Credibility: "People trust O.B. and love working with him," McHugh said. "Paysafe is not a U.S. acquiring company; it's more international. The company has become an established U.S. player; OB was a big part of putting us on that map. He also inherited iPayment, a pretty troubled asset, and turned that around, creating a sales machine that we'll continue to develop and grow."
  • Team-building: "O.B. built a loyal team with strong talent that loves him," McHugh said. "Afshin Yazdian, Paysafe's new CEO of U.S. acquiring, gets along well with O.B and will hit the ground running."

Parting advice

"As I said earlier, I've probably been more lucky than good," Rawls said. "I never expected people to like me, but I always wanted them to respect my decisions and actions."

Rawls' advice for others seeking true success: Take care of your customers, employees and shareholders. Do the right thing, even when it's not easy. Layoffs are painful but sometimes necessary to make the company stronger for those who still work there. It's about trust, respect and the collective good.

"Like a good lieutenant, take care of your teammates, and never leave anyone behind," Rawls said. "When you stand up and say, 'Follow me,' you want to be reasonably assured that you're all drinking from the same cup." end of article

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