Community//

Alfred Nader of OFX: “Success is measured by attention to detail”

I wish everybody in the United States — in the world for that matter — spoke a second language. It opens up worlds that really just aren’t possible otherwise. There’s nothing like seeing someone’s face brighten up when they realize that you speak their native tongue. It develops an immediate connection, personally and professionally, when you do that. In this […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

I wish everybody in the United States — in the world for that matter — spoke a second language. It opens up worlds that really just aren’t possible otherwise. There’s nothing like seeing someone’s face brighten up when they realize that you speak their native tongue. It develops an immediate connection, personally and professionally, when you do that.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alfred Nader.

Alfred is the President of OFX, a publicly-traded international installment company, with North American headquarters in San Francisco. Alfred is a 20-year veteran of the installment industry, with previous executive roles at Western Union & Travelex with a specialty in international expansion. He holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and a BBA from The George Washington University. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife, 3 daughters, and goldendoodle.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

My parents emigrated from Brazil to the United States in the 1970s for my father’s academic training, and I’m the first of my family to be born outside of Brazil. I grew up in the Great State of Nebraska and moved to Washington, DC for college when I was 17.

Being raised in a household where English is the second language gives you a different lens to the world. Getting introduced to different cultures is something that has always attracted me. I like understanding the cultural nuances and dealing with them. When I was growing up, I had a very clear goal in mind that I wanted to get as many different experiences as possible so that I could become a well-rounded individual and executive. Through this, I have gotten a first-hand look at how resilience is a necessary trait — in the business world, and beyond.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

As a 19-year-old student at The George Washington University, I was working at an internship for the former acting ambassador to Brazil for the United States, Dr. James Ferrer. I learned a lot from him and the experience that has stuck with me, but two stories specifically stand out.

One time, I handed something in that he wasn’t happy with. He told me that “success is measured by attention to detail.” I’ll never forget that. He stressed the importance of taking an extra two minutes to revise something, to make sure everything is excellent. It is the difference between success and failure. This is something that I repeat all the time. It’s so simple, but it’s profound enough that it sticks.

Something else that Dr. Ferrer did that I will never forget happened before email was so prevalent. We were putting together a newsletter by hand and had an issue with the printers that was putting us behind schedule. We all had to come in on the weekend and fold newsletters to send them out. I thought it was just going to be the interns and a couple of junior managers — but in walks Dr. Ferrer. He sits down next to us and starts licking stamps, folding papers, just like me — an intern. That really showed me that it doesn’t matter what title you have or where you are in your career. You’re never too good to roll up your sleeves and get the job done.

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

There are a lot of exciting new entrants into the installment world that offer great front-end experiences. OFX is different. We think as hard and spend as much capital against creating a great online experience as we do against perfecting customer support. This focus sets us apart.

Our online experience enables us to complete 90% of customer transactions digitally. But when someone needs to speak to someone at 11 p.m. on a Friday — we are here. We have 24-hour customer service teams in places like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia — high-cost locations. We do this because it’s important that our employees understand the context of our clients. If you’re in Australia sending money to purchase a house in Miami, or a company in England sending money to the US to purchase goods, you want to speak with someone who understands the local intricacies of this transaction.

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?

I’ve been fortunate to have strong mentors and sponsors inside organizations who helped create opportunities for me. The role I hold today is a result of those opportunities, but the way I lead and execute within that role is now the thing I think the most about.

When I look back, I think the ways I think about leadership were originally born from things I didn’t want to be. Early-on, I worked for an inflexible manager, who led solely through power and a lot of micro-management. This experience made me think about leadership and how I didn’t want to lead. Once I had those pillars, I then began working to become something better. Leadership is about building successful teams. We hire intelligent, curious, hungry, and nice people. Then, stay out of their way and let them go do their jobs. The more someone can do, the more we’re going to throw at them.

I measure my personal success on that of my team’s success. The thing I’m most proud of in my career are the former employees of mine who work all over the industry, doing incredible work, and who I consider to be dear friends.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is knowing that when you fall, you can always get back up. Right now is a perfect example of this. The most resilient leaders and companies are going to make it through this tough time in our world. Conan O’Brien once said, “work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Resilient leaders will continue on.

That said, even the most resilient leaders aren’t invincible: they’re human, and we collectively need to be okay with showing emotion. Even for companies in control, this is new territory. It’s okay to say, “hey, we’re in a difficult period right now; Let’s get our heads together to see how we’re going to work through it.” A good leader surrounds themselves with professionals that allow them to get up when there is a stumble or when there’s a difficult time in business.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think of resilience, instead of focusing on one person, I’d like to focus on the American spirit. The American spirit is one of resilience. This country has seen a lot of ups and downs in our history. It starts with our founding. American people always refuse to stay on the ground. We always stand up, persevere, and continue on. We reach new heights together. That’s what is so great about the United States and its people. We refuse to stay down. There are very few places and people like that. You could say that the spirit of never giving up, never surrendering, is embedded in our cultural psyche. I know things aren’t perfect for the United States right now, but I believe that we’re going to come through this stronger than before.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Well, first of all I was a coach’s dream growing up. The best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it. I would love to prove my coaches wrong. You could say that doubt definitely motivates me, as does a fear of failure.

An example of how that translates to business is that I really believe in the internationalization of the Chinese renminbi. I think the renminbi will be a major global currency. In 2008/2009, I started to see the Central Bank of China make moves to internationalize that currency. At that time, I wanted my company to make funding to prepare ourselves for that. A lot of people questioned me. The infrastructure we put in place to make it easy to get money into and out of China is now a significant revenue generator for my former employer.

People in business, especially in my industry, tend to fear what they don’t understand. It takes a special kind of person to be successful going into complex countries like China, India and Brazil. I had a professor once give me a card when I graduated, and it said “the world is a better place because of people who refuse to believe they cannot fly.” I carried that card around with me for years, until it just broke. I think those are the people who make the world a better place. The Bill Gates’ of the world. The Mark Cuban’s of the world. Those are the people who get told ‘you can’t do this’ and they’re going to go out there and get it done, just because they believe that much in themselves.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My first big deal in China was definitely a setback. Due to competitive pressures, we needed to move quickly with a deal that allowed us to launch across multiple geographies within a quarter and keep a pesky competitor at bay. The other side wasn’t negotiating in good faith, and I needed to make the decision of either walking away or agreeing to something that wasn’t ideal. We chose the latter, and because I followed an early mentor’s advice of always hiring the best lawyers (you don’t skimp on legal talent!), we had a contract in place that provided flexibility. We were able to address a competitive threat in the short term while giving us the ability to re-negotiate with our new partner or find a new one. The result was a long term, profitable relationship for the division and a good lesson on the importance of always having alternatives during both the good and the bad times. Not coincidentally, I chose to come and work for a man, OFX’s CEO, Skander Malcolm, who has similar views and once said, “you shouldn’t run face first into a wall that you know is there.”

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Growing up, our family moved around a lot. When you’re the new kid, you often have a choice: Are you going to be the quiet kid in the back of the room without any friends, or are you going to step outside your comfort zone to be outgoing and make friends? Moving around a lot, while not ideal — and not something I want for my children — is something that definitely made me more resilient. I lived in a city of four million people in Brazil and then moved to a city of 3,000 people in Iowa. You learn to roll with the punches. People are all the same. They just see the world through a different lens depending on where you are. The faster you can identify the lens, the more enjoyable life can be and the more friends from different backgrounds you can make.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Meditation

I’m in no way shape or form a meditation guru, but I do try to take five minutes where I put my phone away and go somewhere quiet (which is hard to do with three little kids) just to center myself. There’s a lot of noise out there, being in the market all the time, you’re essentially working 24-hours a day. Just being able to take a moment, step away, and center yourself — it’s a nice reset in the middle of the day. Some days I meditate more than once, some days I don’t get around to it. But, I try to make it a consistent part of my routine when I can.

Read

I try to read as much as I can, and on as many topics as I can. Don’t just focus on American books, or publications — branch out and read things from a European or Latin American perspective. If you’re able to see how people are dealing with different situations in different cultures, it gives you ideas on how to apply it here. When I joined OFX, I bought several books on Australian history. It’s easier to do business with people if you know how they got there.

Have a good life partner

A lot of my success is because of my wife. She has told me to toughen up when I needed to hear it and supported me when I’m having a tough time, offering words of encouragement. Having a strong partner by my side is essential. My wife is as patient as they come. When you’re working internationally, there are no time zones. When there’s work to be done, I get on the phone at 1 a.m. to negotiate a contract in India. I’m on the phone at 10 p.m. having a meeting with my colleagues in Australia. I’m waking up at 6 a.m. to have a call with London. So, you need to have a very patient partner, and I definitely have that in my wife.

Get Moving

Living in Northern California, you can throw a rock and hit a hiking trail. To me, just leaving my phone and going outside to be with nature is incredible. Anything to work up a sweat is important to keep your mind sharp and your body in line. This is especially important when you have an international career. When you’re traveling to foreign countries, it’s pretty easy to stop at McDonald’s. Nobody wants to eat a salad when they get to their hotel at 1 a.m. right? Those Kit Kat bars look pretty sweet. It’s just about incorporating some type of regular physical routine, it helps out a lot. During the pandemic, I’ve become an avid user of Peloton.

Be curious

Finally, I’m a big believer in just stopping and asking your employees questions. Sitting down on the trading floor, going to speak with new employees, it helps you keep things in perspective. There are many examples of when you climb that ladder, you forget that the most important people in your company are those that are dealing directly with the client. They’re the ones with the best ideas. When it comes to being resilient in the business world, it has to do with what your clients want — and no one can help you do that better than your own employees.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I wish everybody in the United States — in the world for that matter — spoke a second language. It opens up worlds that really just aren’t possible otherwise. There’s nothing like seeing someone’s face brighten up when they realize that you speak their native tongue. It develops an immediate connection, personally and professionally, when you do that.

In my house, we only speak in Portuguese. It’s very important to me that my children speak a second language because they’ll have more context about the world, and be able to see things from different perspectives.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would say Guilherme Benchimol. It’s not a name many people will recognize in the United States, but it’s a name worth knowing. He’s the CEO of XP Investimentos (NASDAQ: XP), and single-handedly brought investing to the mainstream in Brazil. He’s the leader of a movement. His story is very inspirational. He started from the ground up, selling educational tools about the market in a market that wasn’t user friendly to the main street. He made investing in the stock market accessible to the common Brazilian — and you’re seeing a surge in Brazil right now, and across Latin America.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

What will you be remembered for?

by Codi Shewan
Wisdom//

How The “Merchant of Death” Turned Patron of Peace

by Jodie Shaw
slow down Pause session at Pause Salon
Community//

Why going SLOW helps you go and GROW faster as an entrepreneur?

by Alfred Chung
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.