Leaders’ Insights: Gary Conroy, managing director, Realex Payments

3 Sep 2015

Gary Conroy, MD, Realex Payments. Photo: Brendan Lyon/ImageBureau.

Gary Conroy is the managing director of e-payments company Realex Payments. He took on that position in March this year after the company was acquired by Global Payments.

Realex Payments was established by Colm Lyon in 2000. When it was acquired by Global Payments in March it was processing €28bn worth of payments a year on behalf of 12,500 clients worldwide. It clients included Paddy Power , The AA, Vodafone and Aer Lingus.

Atlanta-headquartered Global Payments employs 4,200 people worldwide and is a Fortune 1000 company active in 28 countries.

Gary Conroy was one of Realex Payments first employees and has been with the company for more than 10 years.


Describe your role and what you do.

My role is to make sure the company delivers. My focus is on ensuring that Realex Payments delivers a world-class product and service to its customers and that our people work in a great environment.

I took over as managing director of Realex Payments in March this year, after our acquisition by Global Payments.

Fundamentally, success is all about the team and making sure the whole company works well together, rather than as a group of individuals focused on their own tasks. Everyone in Realex Payments depends on everyone else to do their job – our product team creates a winning concept, our developers turn the concept into a tangible product, our IT operations team pushes the coded concept into production and our sales teams and account managers bring the finished product to market. Because everyone in Realex Payments sees where they fit into the big picture, everyone is aware of their personal accountability – they see how their individual contributions impact our customers. It’s what I love to see in action every day.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

For us, prioritisation of work starts and ends with our customers – businesses that sell online. Is the work we are doing making a difference? Are we helping businesses to optimise their payments, to convert more sales and to reduce their payment costs? Prioritisation of company projects is a collaborative process that involves working through our list of concepts and talking to the market and each other.

In terms of organisation, we make sure everyone in the company is involved in one of two activities — making it and /or selling it. Marketing and sales sell the service initially and operations continues to sell the service each and every day. IT delivery and IT operations make the product and keep the lights on 24/7. Of course, we need the right controls in place to keep us aligned — this is the job of our PMO, finance and organisational development functions.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

Businesses always need to get paid, but technology is changing rapidly and businesses need a partner they can trust. Payments is a huge space: CapGemini’s World Payments Report projected the number of global e-commerce transactions at 40bn, with m-commerce growing to 50bn transactions this year. So there’s no shortage of opportunity, but the challenge is to scale to meet the opportunity.

We’re grateful that we can fuel the growth required to do so. Our acquisition by Global Payments is great news; it allows us to continue to invest and grow our capability. We have ambitious plans to grow our headcount and capability in the months ahead to focus on the two key activities — making and selling.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

EU regulation and technological advances present significant opportunities in the industry at the moment, and we are helping our customers to maximise these.

Interchange is a fee paid from the merchant’s acquiring bank to a cardholder’s issuing bank – it presents a significant cost to merchants. EU moves to cap interchange will provide opportunities for merchants to minimise their payment-processing costs.

From a technology standpoint, Realex Payments has really ramped up its investment. We are providing new and easier ways to implement our payment service for any device — in September we are releasing new client and server-side software development kits (SDKs) through our revamped developer centre, with mobile iOS, Android, and Apple Pay SDKs to follow.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

Before Realex Payments, a long, long time ago, I started with Goldman Sachs on the graduate program in Europe. I gradually worked my way from investment banking to retail banking software to security software and, finally, with Realex Payments, to the crossroads between technology and finance.

I’ve been with the company for more than 10 years. I was employee number 14 — I joined as a relationship manager, answering phones and replying to email queries from our customers. I’ve been involved with all parts of the business at one stage or another. It’s been a great journey, with so much more to come. There’s nowhere else I’d rather work.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Sometimes you should have the courage of your convictions a bit sooner. That may involve committing to re-platforming or entering into a new market etc.

Scaling is always a difficult thing to do. 60pc of our revenue comes from the UK, the largest e-commerce market in Europe. If I could do it again, I would put boots on the ground sooner in the UK.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The team here at Realex Payments is amazing.

Diversity is important — I always try to hire people who have different skillsets. Also, they need to be strong — not afraid to challenge the status quo and each other. Finally, and probably most importantly, they have to share a burning desire for the company to succeed.   When the company succeeds, we all succeed.

To get the best out of the team, you have to let them do their job. My job is to craft the vision, the direction and the behaviours with the team, and then get out of the way. I remember a great line from Laurence Crowley, our former chairman: “Let them do the job the way you wouldn’t.”

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

As I said above, diversity is very important to me — I always try to hire people who have the appropriate skills for the job at hand. That inevitably means hiring different people from different backgrounds with different skillsets. We have people from more than 22 different nationalities working at Realex Payments.

‘We have some great female role models in Realex Payments. On our senior management team of eight people, we have three women’

You need to have role models in the company — people who have done well in their careers. People have to see that they can progress in the organisation. I’m probably the best example of this, having started on the front line as relationship manager and worked my way up to managing director. A lot of the recent diversity criticism has been aimed at gender inequality and the lack of women in technology professions. We have some great female role models in Realex Payments. On our senior management team of eight people, we have three women. In total, 30pc of our workforce is female. Our diversity is something we are proud of.

Who is your business hero and why?

Colm Lyon, the founder of Realex Payments.

He’s a true entrepreneur; one who set up a business from nothing – a business that would later sell for €115m. He’s left the business in great shape and positioned it for amazing future growth. We are the technology core of a $7bn company — Global Payments — with incredible opportunities in front of us.

As for Colm, he’s now running and scaling Paywithfire.com, a new way to pay for people and businesses. He’s not just an entrepreneur but a successful serial entrepreneur, and a nice guy to boot.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’ve read everything Michael Lewis has ever written. He’s an investigative journalist, a financier, an academic, a novelist and a storyteller, all rolled into one. I read Flash Boys in a day — I couldn’t put it down.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

We run a 24/7 business, so it’s important that I’m always connected. My iPhone keeps me in contact with the team at all times.

Across the business, we use the right toolsets for the job at hand. And we keep our toolsets standard, so when new people join the organisation they don’t need a lot of time to get accustomed to them. For agile development, we use Confluence and Jira. In IT operations, we use Splunk, Tripwire, et al. In sales and operations, we moved our CRM to Dynamics a year ago. All standard best practice.