Through her 20 years at payments firm WEX, Melissa Smith has worn a variety of hats. Her current hat is that of CEO of the company which does about a $1 billion in revenue. She describes her role as coordinating the needs of her firm’s customers, employees, and investors whose needs don’t always fall in concert to one another.
Smith is our guest this week on the Tearsheet Podcast. We talk about a lot of what goes into running and growing a midsize fintech firm — this includes both soft skills and technical skills. WEX is a 30 year-old vertical payments company that provides payment solutions in fleet, online travel, and healthcare. We discuss how she sizes up new opportunities and determines whether to make a go/no-go decision to enter a new vertical.
How have you defined the CEO role as WEX has grown?
We’re actually at an interesting point. I would describe us as a mid size company — we’re a little over $1 billion in revenue. At this point in your lifecycle, the CEO is still involved in a lot. At the same time, we’re at a scale where the leadership and talent within the company is incredibly important. We have global offices now and that makes the day to day management of the business different.
I really enjoy the relationships we have with our customers, employees, and investors. These groups of relationships frequently want different, and sometimes, opposing things.
As a public company, how do you balance planning between short and long term goals?
I have to navigate around them and my time management to make sure we manage the need to hit short term goals.
I’m a big believer that momentum matters. What you do day to day and the results you post — it matters. I have to balance that with thinking and planning for longer term goals and making sure our people have the time and space to really step back and think about some of the trends we’re seeing.
As a vertical payments player, how do you determine which industries to enter?
We started by helping customers who buy fuel for business purposes save money. We began in the fleet industry and built an expertise around how we can use controls intersecting with a payment to save time and money for businesses.
We learned a lot along the way. We now have over 500,000 customers. We learned that we’re really good at taking complexity out of things. We are also really good at listening to what people needed (and not just what they were just asking for). We could create unique solutions for the problems they had. We also take depth in an industry. We learned we could craft solutions that could work for other industries.
So, while we started with the fleet industry, we moved into the online travel industry. We’ve developed integrated solutions for the online travel agencies to help with hotel payments, which are some of the more complicated payments they have. We took this experience and then moved into healthcare payments — you can’t get more complicated than U.S. healthcare payments.