Trey Loughran of Purchasing Power: “Don’t take yourself too seriously”

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Running a company is serious business, especially in a time of a global pandemic. Showing your human side, letting people know who you are, seeing your personality and humor, is critical. For example, I began doing frequent self-filmed videos every couple of weeks to keep engaged with the employees at […]

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Don’t take yourself too seriously. Running a company is serious business, especially in a time of a global pandemic. Showing your human side, letting people know who you are, seeing your personality and humor, is critical. For example, I began doing frequent self-filmed videos every couple of weeks to keep engaged with the employees at Purchasing Power. While many focused on the business, I wove in personal connections, including one video where I walked the team through my ongoing battle with the squirrels getting into my trashcans, comparing me to Carl from Caddyshack. That’s something I still hear about from everyone!


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trey Loughran.

Loughran is CEO of Purchasing Power, LLC. He joined the company in early October 2019, having held multiple senior executive roles spanning financial services and technology, digital marketing and data analytics across both business-to-business and business-to-consumer platforms. Most recently, he served as president of Bankrate.com, a leading online provider of banking services to consumers via one of the largest digital domains in financial services. He also held a number of senior executive roles over a 12-year career at Equifax, including president of two of the company’s four business units, chief marketing officer, and head of corporate development and emerging markets. Prior to Equifax, Loughran served in various roles at BellSouth Corporation, McKinsey & Company, and Lazard Frères & Co. He has a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a JD from Harvard Law School. He is active in the community and is the board chair of the Be the Match Foundation.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career story is less about a specific incident and more about the diversity of experiences that has led me to be the best I can at what I do today as CEO. Those experiences include the problem solving of consulting, the critical thinking of law, the quantitative analysis of investment banking, the risk taking of being an entrepreneur and the management rigor of large companies. At Equifax I had the opportunity to be rotated through four very different senior roles in 12 years, all of which made me a much stronger leader. My biggest piece of advice is to trust your judgment and know when it is time to move on. Twice in my career I’ve made a relatively sudden career change — once very early, once very late. Both times I knew it was right, and ultimately it worked out well.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

About five months after I was hired by Equifax into my first executive leadership role, my youngest son was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia that required a bone marrow transplant. This meant significant time away from work, including moving our family to Minnesota for a time. I learned a lot about how to personally manage the great emotional, mental and physical toll of caring for my son while managing a new career. But the learning I want to highlight is the unconditional support of my CEO and the company for me and my family. I never feared for my job or my livelihood and knew they were behind me whatever it took. Following my son’s successful transplant, I recall thanking my CEO, who responded “I know you’ll do the same thing for someone else one day.” And years later, when the wife of one of my new senior hires was tragically diagnosed with fatal cancer, I had the opportunity to pay it back. The experience also led me to understand that while many business challenges can be hard, there are things a lot more important and harder that I have had to face.

How are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Strangely enough, leading through the past year has been my most rewarding professional experience. It certainly took a lot of grit and resilience, but I also had the opportunity to provide our great team a sense of comfort in their professional lives when the world felt like it was turning upside down. Purchasing Power is a highly diverse company (60% non-white, 60% women), and ensuring that people feel heard and valued has been more important in the last year than ever. Having been tested through a number of significant challenges in my career prior to 2020, I felt well prepared for the crisis and thankful to be in a position to provide employees with economic, physical and mental security where we could. In a crisis, you have to think about people- your team, your customers, your other constituents. Putting people first always allows you to come out better.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are the only company that really does what we do. For 20 years (20th anniversary this year!), Purchasing Power has given hardworking employees immediate access to thousands of products and services they need and the ability to pay for them easily and responsibly over time through payroll deduction. We have heard from so many customers especially in the hard times of the last year who had family members out of work, needed a new computer while quarantining at home or needed to replace a suddenly overused washing machine, and they relied on our employee purchase program to be their lifeline. Financial recovery from the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 is going to take time for companies as well as for their employees, who are struggling to meet the twin demands of their work and home lives. Purchasing Power stands out by giving their employers a way to meet these needs in a well-rounded benefit package. We have grown along with the voluntary benefit industry as more companies have realized the financial stress their employees are under and the need for programs that will help them. A majority of U.S. workers working full time are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to manage their household budgets and purchase the things they need. Often, they’re forced to choose between a high-interest credit card or loan — or simply go without. Purchasing Power provides another option.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My wife. She is the best coach I know and has had a tremendous career counseling some of the leading business thinkers in the world. I’m a T(hinker), and she’s an F(eeler) on the Myers-Briggs scale, so she keeps me grounded and focused on what is most important — people.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One cause my family and I are passionate about is helping other families through the process of finding a donor match for a life-saving marrow or blood stem cell transplant. Be the Match is the leading stem cell transplant registry. They saved my son’s life, and we are committed to helping this great organization do the same for other families.

Where do you get the drive to continue even when things are hard?

I try to keep my perspective. Things can always be harder, and as I’ve experienced life events like my son battling leukemia or navigating a data breach at Equifax, I know life can throw a lot of punches. Keeping focused on doing the right thing and what is most important has gotten me through. My father was a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps and was killed when I was 6 months old. I often think of the challenges he persevered through as a beloved team leader during the worst fighting in Vietnam. Perspective is critical.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My very first business trip was with a senior partner from the investment banking firm. I was so proud of taking a business trip, all dressed up in my new suit. And then as the plane took off, I proceeded to spill an entire cup of coffee down my shirt. The rather humorless partner didn’t think it was so funny, but he dryly said, “We’ll get you a new shirt before the meeting.” And we did. Two lessons: what you think is a disaster often isn’t that big of a deal, and you can always find another shirt.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In an “always on” world, I do my best to unplug at times through the day and evening. Ideally I do not bring devices into meetings so I am not distracted (albeit impossible in our virtual status now), and I never bring devices to the bedside table at night. Also, our virtual world is very fluid, with less definition between beginning and end and “normal” breakpoints. Trying to carve out times and routine to make it more normal is even more important in this environment.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Running a company is serious business, especially in a time of a global pandemic. Showing your human side, letting people know who you are, seeing your personality and humor, is critical. For example, I began doing frequent self-filmed videos every couple of weeks to keep engaged with the employees at Purchasing Power. While many focused on the business, I wove in personal connections, including one video where I walked the team through my ongoing battle with the squirrels getting into my trashcans, comparing me to Carl from Caddyshack. That’s something I still hear about from everyone!

Little things matter a lot more than you might think. Not long after COVID-19 hit, I had the idea to block everyone’s calendar from noon-1 p.m. for them to have a break during the day from meetings and be able to rethink, regroup, and spend time with their families. You would have thought I’d given everyone a 25% raise! But seemingly little things have a big impact. If you think about it, do it.

Prepare to be “always on.” In every job I’ve had, no matter how big, there were times every day when you could take a mental break from what was going on, either a break in your office or sitting in a long meeting of which you are not the focus. As CEO, people are always going to key on you, whether you want to or not. And you have to be on 100% of the time. When I first took the role, I thought “why am I so much more tired come 5:00” than I was in other roles. And I realized it was the toll of having to be “on” every minute, always showing engagement and interest in anything being discussed with you.

Listen without Knowing. It’s impossible to hear when you’re not listening. Great business leaders are always thinking ahead, but unfortunately this often means thinking about what you’re going to say next instead of listening to the person speaking. Truly hearing someone requires active listening, without knowing what you want to say in response. I found this to be most helpful in our discussions about racial equity coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Early on I found myself thinking in response “how can I imagine what it must be like in other’s shoes” but realized soon that letting that go, and focusing completely on listening, allowed me to truly hear the underlying message.

Smile. I have a natural frown and serious expression. I realize that my natural serious tone can come across as unhappy, particularly while I look at videos I’ve done. People cue off of non-verbal as much as verbal, and a smile from your leader is often as good as a well-placed compliment.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone allows themselves to be typed for potential bone marrow or stem cell donation when they get the COVID vaccine and/or a COVID test.

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