Anthony Clark, 41
Director, Sales Planning and Operation
When I was a 20-something-year-old, there really wasn’t anything I wasn’t willing to try to make some money. I probably had 30 jobs. I lived in Orlando at the time, and through a bit of dumb luck, I got into recruiting day laborers. It was, Hey, we need someone to go into some of the more suspect parts of town at 5 in the morning. Would you be willing to drive a van to the homeless shelters and other places where workers hang out, pick them up, and take them to work every day?
Universal Studios was being built and Disney World was expanding some areas like Animal Kingdom. A lot of people were needed to man a shovel or a broom in the blazing Florida sun. The guys I found got 50 bucks cash every day — 35 bucks after taxes. They’d go get a hot meal and their alcoholic beverage of choice. The smell of the van in the morning is something that I remember clearly. It smelled like they just got done drinking ten minutes ago. Looking back, it was a little bit dangerous. But I was a kid who didn’t have any fears.
A guy I knew with a labor-staffing firm decided he was going to put a pop-up office in Atlanta to support the 1996 Olympics. Maybe he saw a little bit of talent, or saw that I was desperate or stupid enough to try something completely new. There was a need for lots of temporary labor, specifically for clean-up at venues around the city after the day’s events. And I moved to Atlanta.
Atlanta is known for being a very transient town. A lot of people have come here during boom periods in the financial-services space, banking, IT, telecom. For me, a lot of doors opened up by coming to a city that had all of those options, rather than tourism being the base. It was a unique opportunity to move away from people who knew me as a kid and to become somebody who I aspired to be.
I worked for a couple of years for that organization. And it evolved from recruiting day laborers to recruiting administration professionals to recruiting salespeople, to getting into the corporate world.
The phone rang one day: Worldpay was looking for somebody with experience recruiting sales talent, in preparation for an expansion-and-growth period. It was a better opportunity than the one I was in at the time. So I accepted the offer and started as recruiter, headhunting, just banging out phone calls, trying to hire salespeople.
We’re in the payments-acquiring space. Our company was on the forefront of giving small merchants the ability to accept all forms of electronic payment: online payments, face-to-face payments, mobile payments, and integrated payments, from shopping cart to NFC [near-field communication] mobile payments, to traditional, over-the-counter, swipe-your-card payments.
When I first started in 2004, people were still using knuckle-busters, where you had to put the card in and you had the three carbon copies; you did the back-and-forth, it left an imprint, and you got a paper copy, and then there was a carbon copy you had to throw away. That was still alive and well.
Electronic payments made the most sense for companies where customers were making larger purchases, like airlines and casinos. There was a fee involved for the merchant, so only big companies took credit cards like American Express or MasterCard. For banks, issuing credit was a profitable side of their business, but risky; it came with lots of losses. Somebody would steal a credit card and it would be two or three days before somebody realized that they’d bought $1 million worth of electronics — and it wasn’t the cardholder.
The evolution of the small-business customer accepting electronic payments has really driven the business over the last 10, 12 years. From 2000 to 2005 was the dramatic expansion of banks issuing check cards — plastic that functioned like a credit card, but was tied to a bank account. When a check card was swiped, it sent a message back to the bank — Are there funds? Are there not? — and if there weren’t, you would get a decline. There was very little risk in it for the banks, which spurred on dramatic growth.
People began to carry less and less cash in their wallets, and that’s what gave small-business merchants the need to accept electronic payment. Until then, at your mom-and-pop sub shops or doughnut shops, or your dry cleaner, you’d go in and hand over $20 cash and get change. Now, just 12, 15 years later, that’s rare. You hand over your check card and you swipe it or dip it.
The U.S. is primarily made up of small businesses — there are about 7 or 8 million of them at any given time. We specialize in those kind of folks: your sole proprietorships, restaurants, corner dry cleaners, cafés, boutiques, nail salons. Your mom-and-pops up to middle-market companies. We give them the ability to provide the payment options their customers want.
The chip card is sort of the latest evolution in that process. It’s much more secure than the mag stripe. When a chip card transmits that signal through to the bank for approval, not only does it encrypt it, but it assigns it a unique identifier, which makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replicate, skim, or reproduce at some point. There was a liability shift in 2015 where the issuers, the big banks, said to the merchants, “Okay, if you’re accepting payment at the terminal, it has to be a chip card. It has to be dipped. If you’re swiping a mag stripe or punching in the numbers, we consider that a nonsecure transaction. And if it turns out to be fraud, you’re 100 percent liable.”
So there’s now a mad rush of small merchants who want to protect their business and avoid charge-backs. As a company, we’ve had to develop new technology quickly to make it easier for small businesses to take secure transactions.
In August, I will have worked here for 13 years. For my first seven years, I spent 95 percent of my time beating the phones down, all day, all night, recruiting salespeople. After that, I went into a management role, first in recruiting, and now in sales operations. It was an aspirational jump for me.
I have 25 people that report in to my group. My sales colleagues are out, bringing new merchants to Worldpay, doing all the legwork to get those prospects to say yes. My team ensures that we’re easy to do business with when it comes time to sign the contract. End-to-end, from conception to inception, from that initial sales call to when that customer has the product in their shop and they’re using it — my role is the coordination of all those pieces coming together. It’s a bit of project management, it’s a bit of strategy, it’s prioritization, it’s aligning human resources, all of those things.
It feels really good when all those pieces come together cleanly. To me, when that comes together, on time, on budget, and results in a product that’s in the hands of our sellers, that actually drive revenue to the organization — that’s Zen. I’m really good at that.
In general, I don’t analyze things. It’s just not what I do. There’s an analytics component to my job — to look at things from a 15,000-foot view and see if the right people are doing the right things at the right velocity in the right quantity. And, if they’re not, to think of what levers are available to push and pull to ensure we get the right outputs.
When I’m called to do that, that’s where I’m prone to make mistakes. I’ve never necessarily done the math wrong. But some of the data that I massage on a regular basis is complex, so I’ve taken what seemed to be a very straightforward set of numbers and completely misinterpreted what they really meant. My emotion is almost immediately embarrassment. I self-consciously slip to, How do I appear to others?, especially to senior executives, when those kind of mistakes happen. Luckily, they don’t happen all that often. But I do have some fear.
I would consider myself successful. From my background, the place that I’m in, I feel blessed. I love what I do and the people I work with. In my own sphere of influence, I feel like I’m making a difference. Part of that is, hey, we support a lot of immigrants who are starting up businesses.
It’s changed for me the last couple years, where it’s no longer been the financial goal. You hit these different financial thresholds — you have the car you want, the house you wanted, you go to dinner anytime you want. Then you start to think past that. That’s what I’ve found myself doing. I’ve been a lot of other places in the world where I’ve served people who have a fraction of what I have. I’ve always kind of envisioned a future Tony down the road, a post-corporate Tony, doing some of that work.
I celebrated my 20th year in Atlanta this year, which meant celebrating coming into a new existence, closing the book on who I was in Orlando. Did I have any idea when I was driving around picking up rent-a-drunks at 5 a.m. that that was going to evolve into recruiting six-figure professionals for a global organization? No! That guy would not recognize me today.
I think there’s some common threads to just the natural gifts, if that’s the right word, that I’ve had all along. The relational side of things, a certain level of human intelligence. But in hindsight, I would say, going from that type of work and having that evolve into something that brought me to Atlanta — that was dumb luck.