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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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:
McHugh summarized three defining achievements in Rawls' career:
"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."
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