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Industry Leader:
Tom Wimsett

The power of the tried and true

If you have been in the payments industry for any period of time, you are probably familiar with the name Tom Wimsett. He is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Iron Triangle Payment Systems, as well as the President and CEO of Retriever Payment Systems. Wimsett also served as a Director of the MasterCard U.S. Region Board and as a Director of the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA).

Obviously, one doesn't just walk in the door and become CEO of a company or Director of an industry association. Wimsett's significant success is the result of years of hard work and determination.

Wimsett began his career in the financial services industry as a data entry operator for National Processing Co. (NPC). "I first got my foot in the door at NPC while I was an undergraduate student at the age of 19," he said. "It was clear from the start that the payments industry was full of potential."

He didn't see it coming, but Wimsett was destined to spend 19 years at NPC, working his way from entry-level employee to powerful executive and building a momentum that has never flagged. From 1995 to 1998, he served as an executive officer of NPC, first as President of NPC Check Services and later as Executive Vice President of Merchant Services. From 1999 to 2002, he was the company's President and CEO. Under Wimsett's watch, NPC's profits quadrupled, and the company went from a $275 million market capitalization company to well over $1 billion, being sold in 2004 to Bank of America for $1.4 billion.

Branching out on his own

Almost immediately upon resigning from NPC in September of 2002, Wimsett founded Iron Triangle Payment Systems (ITPS), a financial-processing and payment-services company. The company was founded with a $200 million equity commitment from GTCR Golder Rauner LLC, a private equity investor with significant importance in the payments arena. Other GTCR investments include Genpass Inc., Transaction Network Services Inc., TransFirst and VeriFone.

Wimsett started ITPS to pursue growth and acquisition opportunities in the transaction processing and payment services industry. "We want to buy, build and grow a great company in the payment space," Wimsett said. To that end, ITPS acquired its first subsidiary, Retriever Payment Systems, last year. Retriever serves more than 95,000 merchants and processes approximately $8 billion in annual volume.

Wimsett explained how ITPS' large equity investments relate to the company's philosophies. "It all starts and ends with talent," he said. "To attract great talent you need a significant enterprise. That's why we started with a large equity commitment. Obviously, given Retriever's size and 20-year history, it is already a significant player in the industry."

Putting people first

Wimsett attributes his success to some basic, tried and true qualities: a stable upbringing and a strong work ethic. He also knows that while being business savvy and educated is vital, so is the ability and desire to work hard and build healthy relationships "My parents were my best mentors," he said. "My father instilled a strong work ethic while my mother taught me good interpersonal skills ... I have decent analytical skills, I work really hard, I stay focused and I try to build good relationships with people."

Wimsett's motto is, "Stay focused, move fast and put people first." This philosophy is evident in the way ITPS and Retriever conduct business with their external customers as well as their internal customers: their employees.

Building strong relationships is important to Wimsett personally, and it's important to him that relationships are valued throughout his organizations. He thinks that one of the best ways to convey how to treat customers well is for employers to treat their workforces well. "In general, I believe by putting employees first, through training and development, incentive and recognition programs, our employees will be both highly motivated and customer focused," he said. "This will lead to customer satisfaction and strong customer retention, which will ultimately produce exceptional shareholder value."

Staying motivated and inspired

The growth of the financial services industry, as well as the variety of opportunities it offers, have kept Wimsett motivated and inspired for the past 20 years. "This industry has grown by approximately 10 percentage points greater than [gross domestic product] GDP over the past 15 years," he said. "It's a great industry with strong investment return dynamics and terrific people. The rapid pace of change has kept the industry interesting, challenging and full of opportunity."

For Wimsett, there is no such thing as a typical day, as each day and each project bring new developments, challenges and rewards. He reports that his work provides a lot of variety, which keeps him interested. "I rarely spend more than an hour on any specific topic throughout the day," he said. "There are different opportunities and relationships we are evaluating. We are evaluating the performance of the business, ensuring that the service quality continues to improve. There are a lot of moving pieces in this industry. I try to cover a lot of ground, without diving too deep."

Words of advice

When asked to provide a word of advice to those new to the industry, Wimsett stressed the importance of identifying and developing good partnerships. "This industry has all kinds of interdependencies," he said. "Pick good partners to help support your merchants and processing activities."

Wimsett pointed out that while partnerships are important for any business at any stage, they are most critical for new agents or new offices. "Focus on building good relationships with your customers, processors and partners," he said.

He also emphasized that it is necessary to provide a broad array of POS products and services, while also being able to focus on a particular niche to differentiate oneself from the competition. Honesty is also important to Wimsett, as he believes your word is your reputation. "Always do what you say you will do," he said.

Plans for continued success

While Wimsett has been a fixture in the industry for many years, he shows no signs of slowing down or relaxing his standards. "My personal goal is to be an effective leader for my company, my colleagues and all interested stakeholders in Retriever," he said. His plans for Retriever include continued success while growing organically through new customers and distribution partners.

Wimsett's goal for ITPS in 2006 is another acquisition. "We are not going to do five acquisitions a year," he said. "It takes a lot of time and focus to do it right." In the long term, he would like for ITPS to continue building equity. "We want to acquire strong, profitable companies that will grow and ultimately allow us to pursue an eventual [initial public offering] IPO."

The state of the industry

Wimsett's years of experience afford him the opportunity to review the current landscape and make some judgments and predictions about the present and future state of the industry. "The one thing that continues to impress me is the amount of organic growth within the industry," he said. "The share of wallet gains made by card-based payments has continued to remain strong due to a number of favorable industry trends."

Wimsett is optimistic, yet realistic, about future growth in the payments arena. "Over the next three to five years I believe the industry will continue to experience solid growth, although at slower growth rates," he said.

"This is a natural occurrence in the maturation of any industry. The companies that can provide superior products, outstanding service and competitive rates will continue to gain market share from the weaker competitors and ultimately continue to be successful."

Wimsett thinks the regulatory and legal issues surrounding the interchange system are serious tests for the industry. "Finding the proper balance between the merchant, the acquirer or ISO, the issuer, the [card] Association and the consumer is one of the most complex and significant challenges facing our industry," he said. "I believe we'll see greater transparency at the Associations as it relates to interchange fees, rules, etc. The acquiring and ISO industry will need to continue to enhance and better articulate the value it provides to the other stakeholders throughout the payment system."

Challenges and growth ahead

Wimsett understands that it takes significant investment to attract significant talent, and that is how he runs his businesses. He scans the horizon for new opportunities while remaining focused on current projects and will continue to do so as he leads Retriever and ITPS through further growth. "Seeing Retriever and Iron Triangle continue to prosper both challenges and inspires me," he said. "Working with great people and executing a well thought [out] plan is extremely inspiring."

Article published in issue number 060402

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