GS Logo
The Green Sheet, Inc

Please Log in

A Thing

Industry Leader:
Rick Brennes Bringing Innovation to Payments

The payments industry seems to attract a certain type of personality-you find a lot of people with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for sales. But the people who tend to achieve the greatest success are also creative and fearless of new technologies-because things change in this industry, and they change quickly.

Rick Brennes, President and CEO of The Brennes-Jones Group, Inc. has shown throughout his career that he has a knack for sales and has demonstrated an ability to embrace new technologies. These qualities have earned him the respect of others and led him to start his own company.

"I've worked with Rick in various vendor relationships for over 10 years," said Susan Sutton, Senior Account Executive for Global Payments Inc. "I have always thought he is one of the best in the industry. He is innovative, he sees opportunities and possibilities in new technologies, and he is always willing to try them."

"I generally learned everything the hard way," Brennes said. "I had to be creative on my own. I've always tried different things and new things, and my ability to read people has really helped me a lot."

The Brennes-Jones Group (BJG), founded by Brennes in 1997, is a Dallas-based employee-owned ISO with US Bank in Minneapolis and Moneris Solutions/Harris Bank in Chicago as its bank sponsors. It also has several front-end and back-end processor relationships with Alliance Data Systems, NOVA Information Systems, Vital Processing Services and Global Payment Systems. The company processes for merchants across 38 states and had sales in excess of $300 million in 2003.

BJG offers bankcard, T&E, debit, EBT, Pcard and electronic gift and loyalty card processing and check guarantee and authorization. It also offers terminal, wireless, IPOS, PC and Internet-based solutions.

The company focuses on selling these services to medium- to large-sized merchants that are mostly in the retail, petroleum and hospitality industries. The majority of its merchants, Brennes said, are located in the western states-with the heaviest concentration in Texas and California.

Most ISOs work with 1099 sales agents, but almost all of BJG's salespeople are on staff as W-2 employees. Brennes said that works well for his company because he has more control over his sales people-especially in terms of training-and that earns him more loyalty.

"I have a great fear of a loose cannon salesperson," he said.

He thinks his staff is by far better trained than if they were independent agents. They are trained to sell on value-added solutions, such as finding better ways for merchants to do business by lowering their costs and increasing transaction speeds through the use of new technology.

Value-added products including electronic check conversion and gift cards are very popular with BJG's merchants right now. "I don't employ the salesman who is the great equipment jockey," Brennes said. "We don't do very many equipment sales at all here.

"And I couldn't ask for a better staff. It's close to a family culture and a reflection of our collective philosophies. The salespeople typically don't fight on risk issues. They don't want to bring any business on that might jeopardize the welfare of the company. When I was in sales I fought all the time-I wanted everything to go through. But now that I'm on the line for it, it's a different story."

Brennes rewards his employees in return for their loyalty. They earn residuals-and they are eligible for benefits such as health insurance and vacation time.

"We offer a PPO [health plan] that's probably as good as most major corporations in America," he said. "We pay 100% for the employee and 75% for their dependents. They have vision, dental, prescription, short and long term disability, a 401K-it's a full blown package."

Welcome to the Payments Industry

Brennes got his start in the payments industry as an Account Executive at ISO Martin Howe Associates (sold to PMT in 1997) in September of 1990. He heard through a client and mutual friend about a sales position open with a man who was starting an ISO-Jack Martin. Martin happened to live only three blocks from Brennes, so he walked over to his house to talk to him, and ended up taking the job.

"At the time my entire knowledge of the credit card processing industry was only in using a credit card," Brennes said. "I knew zero...and there was a lot to learn.

"I took the opportunity to embrace that and I just learned everything that I possibly could. I drove everybody nuts by asking thousands of questions. I found that by doing things differently, I was able to enjoy some very nice success in selling."

During that time most merchants had terminals but didn't have printers, Brennes said. So he put a Tranz 330 and a 250 printer together on a stand and put them in a camera carrying case and then went around and showed merchants his "system," which included the ability to print reports. Many merchants had never seen printed reports before-they used a spiral notebook to write their sales figures in at the end of the day.

"I sold a lot of those, and I also sold a lot of terminals with a 'puppy dog sale,'" he said. Brennes would walk into merchant locations with a new terminal, tell the merchants he was going to put the device on 30-day billing and leave the terminal there "to try out." He told them he would come back in a few weeks to pick it up. And he rarely ever had to go back to pick them up because the merchants usually bought the terminals.

Brennes made most of these sales to local merchants such as retail establishments and restaurants; however, when he got into the wireless arena in 1992 his sales became more national in scope.

Bringing Wireless Credit Card Processing to the U.S.

On a cold call, Brennes solicited business from the Dallas Cowboys to accept credit cards for their souvenir and food sales-and later won the account. "I asked, 'By the way, what kind of phone system do you use so we can do authorizing?'" Brennes said, "and I was told, 'We don't have a phone system.' So I said, 'How are we supposed to authorize the credit cards?' and I was told, 'That's your problem.'"

He found out through a friend at MasterCard that a wireless company called RAM Mobile Data had been doing wireless beta testing with MasterCard and Visa. He contacted the company and they set up beta test, which included an enormous amount of equipment for each 'unit,' including: a Tranz 330 and a 250 printer or a Tranz 420 with a battery pack, an Ericsson C719 radio that weighed about five pounds, and a 12-volt converter.

"Brennes 'cobbled together' an enormous, crude, wireless terminal system, but it worked," said Galen Mosier, Chief Technology Officer of BJG, who also worked with Brennes at Martin Howe. "And nobody had done it before [in the U.S.].

"He is a guy who has more ideas than he can keep up with. Bringing wireless credit card processing to the U.S. market is his 'claim to fame', but he's always thinking about how we can do something better. Most of the time, we can't, but sometimes we can, and the point is he's thinking about it," Mosier said.

Brennes said he put the very first paying customer-The Dallas Cowboys-on the Mobitex wireless network.

After the success with The Dallas Cowboys, Martin Howe Associates won the wireless transaction processing business of the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Disney Sports Enterprises and the New York Islanders, to name a few. Martin Howe processed wireless transactions for virtually every major sporting event, including the Dallas Grand Prix, the World Series, the NBA All Star Game and Aramark.

Brennes said he wrote the very first contract at Martin Howe Associates in October 1990 as an Account Executive-only a month after he started. He moved into sales management within two years. When he left the company, in May 1997, Martin Howe was processing about $1.5 billion and Brennes was overseeing 23 account executives in eight states and serving as VP of Sales.

Leveraging ETA

Brennes has been very involved with the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) from the beginning of his career in the payments industry. And when he started BJG in June 1997 with partner John Jones (Jones has since left the company), who had also worked at Martin Howe, one of the first things he did was join ETA.

"I got on the membership committee and I worked to get on the Board of Directors. The contacts I've made have been invaluable, and the trade show is a wealth of information with many educational opportunities," Brennes said. He currently serves on the 2003-2004 ETA Board of Directors, ETA Membership Committee and is also ETA representative on the Board of Director's for the National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP).

Brennes said he has always been a salesman-even before working with an ISO in the payments industry. He began selling with Kubota Tractor Co. and International Harvest in the early 1980s and moved into sales management. In the late eighties he sold securities and served as a financial consultant for corporate executives for Prudential-Bache Securities and Merrill Lynch, and then took the job with Martin Howe and never looked back.

"It's what I do best," he said.

Brennes said he likes the payments industry the best because it's always changing. "If it were the same stuff over and over, I'd probably be bored and go do something else, but it holds my interest because it's very entrepreneurial-driven, and I feed off that. That's the atmosphere I like to be in."

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
Back Next Index © 2004, The Green Sheet, Inc.