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“Every company needs a North Star that creates a common language for employees and helps guide their ambition” With Philip McHugh

Every company needs a North Star that creates a common language for employees and helps guide their ambition. Have fun and do well are two guiding principles that I try to instill in the culture of the business that I lead. People have to enjoy themselves and believe that they can be their full, confident […]


Every company needs a North Star that creates a common language for employees and helps guide their ambition. Have fun and do well are two guiding principles that I try to instill in the culture of the business that I lead. People have to enjoy themselves and believe that they can be their full, confident selves. When that happens, employees and the business thrive.


I had the pleasure to interview Philip McHugh, senior executive vice president and president, Merchant Solutions, TSYS.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I call myself a “mixed salad.” My mom is Polish and my dad is English, but I was born in Brazil and raised in South Carolina. That multinational upbringing instilled in me the value of diverse perspectives and continues to impact how I think about things. My connection to Brazil also made me a proud soccer fan, despite some disappointing finishes for the Brazilian national team at the last few World Cups.

I pursued several international opportunities after attending college in Atlanta. My first job was in a textile mill in England, and then I moved to a paper mill in Brazil. After that, I worked at Citibank in São Paulo, New York and Miami and Barclays in London.

My stints at these places happened to coincide with major world events, which made my experiences all the more formative. I was in South America during the Argentine currency crisis, New York for 9/11 and London during the financial crisis.

I’m also a lifelong, competitive swimmer. It’s been a big part of my life outside of the office. There are a lot of parallels I can correlate between being a competitive athlete and my professional life, as both take immense hard work and dedication.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first joined TSYS, I was doing a lightning round of light-hearted questions with colleagues so we could get to know one another. One of the questions was simple: Dog or cat? I was the only “cat person” in the room, and they haven’t let me live it down since.

What do you think makes your company stand out during these disruptive times? Can you share a story?

Disruption in payments is coming fast and from every direction, and this disruption is impacting both how consumers make payments and merchants accept them. Because brick-and-mortar stores are not the only places where people engage in commerce, consumers are experimenting with new payment methods like Venmo and Zelle. That means payment solutions for merchants — which is the business that I oversee at TSYS — can’t be one-size-fits-all.

At TSYS, we’re driving growth by focusing on micro verticals like health, specialty retail and the non-profit arena. The payment companies that can drive simplicity through software will succeed, and that’s what we intend to achieve for our clients. We’re focused on three main objectives: 1) leverage and build on our reputation for trust, integrity and partnership; 2) prove that we can be disruptive; and 3) continue growing at double digits.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Every company needs a North Star that creates a common language for employees and helps guide their ambition. Have fun and do well are two guiding principles that I try to instill in the culture of the business that I lead. People have to enjoy themselves and believe that they can be their full, confident selves. When that happens, employees and the business thrive.

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 or example?

I’ve worked for many great leaders who have pushed me to be my very best, and that includes Troy Woods, CEO of TSYS.

Others have also made a big impact. Going all the way back to my college swimming career, I recall my swim coach, Andy Pulsifer, encouraging me to continue swimming my senior year when I was seriously considering quitting. He helped me realize that simply enjoying the journey was important and continues to be a big influence on my life and career.

Leo Salom with whom I worked at Citi, was also a huge factor in my success. He elevated me to a role that stretched me and changed the trajectory of my career.

Valerie Soranno Keating at Barclays was an important mentor. I try to emulate the incredible culture that she created when I worked for her.

Can you share what you believe will be the “top five” fintech and banking trends over the next three years? Please share a story or example for each.

1)The wave of consolidation happening in the fintech industry will continue.

Every day it seems a new acquisition is announced. Continued innovation by both startups and established technology companies will help to feed this consolidation, and larger companies will purchase many of the disruptors that have big ideas (TSYS, for example, recently completed the purchase of Cayan, a merchant acquiring business, for more than $1 billion).

2) Innovation in how we make and take payments will be an ongoing macro trend.

The innovation will come from different companies, so don’t expect there to be a single winner. However, there could be major breakthroughs in peer-to-peer payments — especially if the major social media players get involved in a serious way. Regardless, we’re moving toward more choices — not less — for merchants and consumers.

3) Data will continue demonstrating its ability to be a force for good and bad. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will take off as they are integrated with digital platforms. One area where this is already happening is in card-not-present fraud prevention. Using machine learning, TSYS helps its customers to dramatically increase their ability to identify and stop a fraudulent transaction at the time of purchase.

But the downsides of the amount of data available will be an area of ongoing — and maybe increasing — concern. The fintech industry will invest heavily to prevent identify theft and fraud.

4) Innovators will help solve the unique payment needs of specific industries.

Stripe and Square are good examples of how startups can grow very fast by serving a niche. These two companies have been very effective at targeting the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.

Going forward, we see bigger payment players — like TSYS — going after various vertical industries. We’re already doing that in the health care sector by drilling down into what doctor’s offices need to accept and make payments, and then creating a tailored set of services for them.

5) The size of the payment pie will grow.

The overall pool of opportunity for the fintech industry will expand along with technology. The amount of cash in the economy demonstrates how this can happen. Even with all the new ways to pay and transfer money electronically, there was still more cash in circulation in 2017 than there was in 2016. The trend over the past ten years has been consistently upward. And if there’s more cash in the economy, there are more opportunities to digitize those transactions. At TSYS, we’re very bullish on the payment space.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”?

I’ve found the maxim, “Happiness is the difference between expectation and reality,” to be a good guide for me. I am most happy when I am enjoying and fully inhabiting the work or personal pursuits that I’m doing at that moment — instead of dwelling on what I’m not doing or achieving.

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.

Respectful discourse. There is a global trend toward people drifting to extremes. People don’t talk to others with whom they disagree anymore. My experience working in various cultures has taught me that the art of conversation and respectful discussion is a win/win for both sides. I would love to inspire a movement to make this more commonplace.

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