Leaders’ Insights: Louise Phelan, PayPal

26 Nov 2015

Louise Phelan is the vice-president of global operations for PayPal in EMEA.

Louise Phelan joined PayPal in 2006, having previously been a member of the management team at GE Money, a subsidiary of General Electric.

She has been continually successful in securing growth at PayPal’s operations in Ireland, including securing 1,000 new jobs in 2012 for Dundalk, Co Louth, and she was named in Siliconrepublic.com’s list of 25 people influencing Ireland’s fintech revolution.

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m vice-president of global operations for PayPal in EMEA. I lead more than 2,600 people based in Dublin, Dundalk and Berlin. I help them develop careers with PayPal and I work with them to ensure we deliver a world-class service to our customers and merchants.

I’m motivated by seeing my teammates thrive and succeed in a dynamic and exciting working environment. We’re hiring all the time through our website.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

It’s important to be organised, but it’s also important to have the right talent around you. I have a great team of people who I know I can trust. When they escalate issues to me, that’s when I know I have to prioritise them; otherwise, I trust them to get on with their job while I manage my workload.

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

The marketplace is changing all the time and it can be difficult for companies to keep up with consumer expectations. That’s a real challenge for businesses in the technology sphere. The only way to tackle it is to innovate constantly and deliver services that meet these evolving needs and deliver a real impact. At PayPal, we do this all the time. We’re reimagining the future of money and developing technologies to benefit people and businesses. We’re also working very closely with merchants to help them grow their businesses by providing seamless payment experiences to their customers from any location and any device.

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?

PayPal is revolutionising the world of payments. It’s really exciting being part of a movement that is reinventing money. The move to mobile is a massive industry opportunity for us. In 2014, PayPal processed one billion payments made on mobile devices. That was a quarter of our overall volume.

To us, it’s not just about capitalising on this growing trend, it’s about empowering businesses and consumers to make the most of online opportunities.

‘The move to mobile is a massive industry opportunity for us’

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

That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I trained as a nurse, so leading 2,600 people in a technology company was never in my plan. It turned out nursing wasn’t for me. My first big job was working for Mars Ireland. After that, I worked for Woodchester Bank, which was then acquired by GE Money, a division of General Electric. I was there for a total of 16 years. From there I was headhunted by PayPal. Online payments was a new industry and I was excited to be part of an organisation and industry with so much potential. I held a number of different leadership roles at PayPal before I progressed to my current job.

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

There isn’t any one big mistake (or awesome failure, as I like to call them) that stands out right now, but one of the most important things that I learned early on in my career is to not let setbacks set you back. You need to continually learn from your experiences, both your awesome failures and your successes, and keep developing yourself as both a person and a leader. 

How do you get the best out of your team?

I get the best out of my people by coaching them to develop their skills, empowering them to do a good job and rewarding their efforts. I want to give my talented teammates the opportunity to thrive and that means investing in them. PayPal offers people careers, not just jobs, and that means giving our people the opportunity to develop their skills. A top priority for me is making sure that everyone in my organisation has the opportunity to be really effective and engaged in their work, to grow their skills and develop their career. Reward and recognition is a big part of our culture. We have monthly spot awards and quarterly internal awards that recognise our top performers; but sometimes it’s just about remembering to say thanks to people for a job well done.

‘I trained as a nurse, so leading 2,600 people in a technology company was never in my plan’

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

Some industries, and some companies, are still male-dominated. I’m delighted to say that this isn’t the case in PayPal. We have a good mix of men and women at my leadership table – its gender balanced and therefore gender neutral. Having so many females at my top table has had a ripple effect. It has inspired a whole new generation of women at PayPal and that’s evident by the gender mix at different levels right throughout the company. That’s something we are very proud of.

Who is your business hero and why?

Everyone you work with teaches you something. I have a leadership team that consistently brings new ideas, perspectives and viewpoints to the table and I find that inspiring. I love working with Dan Schulman, PayPal’s president and CEO. Dan has a background in the payments industry so he’s brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position and we’re all learning so much from him and from his leadership style.

‘Sometimes it’s just about remembering to say thanks to people for a job well done’

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

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

My phone – it keeps me connected to my emails, to my calendar, to my colleagues, to my friends, to the news. I couldn’t be without it. PayPal is my most-used app. It gives me the ability to easily and securely shop online and transfer money on any device, at any time and from any location. I even use it every time I buy a coffee at work as our offices are cashless.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.