As TSYS fully made the CEO transition from the Phil Tomlinson era at Tuesday’s annual meeting of shareholders, successor Troy Woods paid tribute with a few choice words aimed at showing how much he has meant to the high-tech company.
“His actions, successes and his personality have truly put TSYS on the global payments map,” Woods said. “All along the way he has done it with grace, humbleness, a great deal of common sense, and a great sense of humor. Phil has been a personal mentor to me and countless others at this company.”
It was last July that Tomlinson retired as chief executive officer of the credit-card and payment processor headquartered in downtown Columbus, its campus overlooking the Chattahoochee River. On Tuesday, in the company’s auditorium, he officially relinquished the chairman’s title as well, with Woods — now chairman, CEO and president — stepping to the podium to address those gathered for the event in person and via webcast.
Suddenly, Tomlinson, the man who had worked 41 years for the company — the last decade spent leading the global processor to unprecedented success and more than $2 billion in annual revenue — was ready to make way for his successor and enjoy a few of his hobbies and home life.
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“I love to hunt and fish and play golf, and I’ve enjoyed here lately getting to spend a lot more time with my family, particularly my grandchildren,” Tomlinson said after the meeting. “They’re growing up and I love being around them, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.”
Not that the former top executive will be fading away. He will remain a director on the TSYS board for a few years, and he is heading the capital campaign by Columbus State University to raise $100 million for several projects, including expansion on the former Ledger-Enquirer property downtown.
Asked to sum up his career at the company he had been with since the mid-1970s, Tomlinson said it was “41 years of just working with great people, with great clients. I just can’t think of how it could have been any better, honestly.”
He pointed out the succession planning by the company occurred “without a hitch” once again as TSYS moved from one CEO to another for only the second time in its 32-year history as a publicly traded firm. The firm began trading on the New York Stock Exchange as a subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp. in 1983. Richard Ussery, now a board director, was CEO until passing the torch to Tomlinson in 2004.
The outgoing chairman said Woods “is the man for the time” and that he couldn’t think of a better person to take over the top seat at TSYS. He said the challenge his successor will face is simply continuing the company’s growth amid the fierce worldwide competition among credit-card and payment processors.
“We compete against some giants and we historically have done incredibly well, and I’ll predict to you we’ll do even better in the future,” Tomlinson said.
Woods echoed that sentiment during his presentation to shareholders and after the gathering.
“If we’re not growing and if we are not innovating, we are dying,” he said. “There’s only one way to grow. You’ve got to keep moving.”
The company has done just that in the past 18 months, purchasing Texas-based prepaid card firm NetSpend for $1.4 billion in the summer of 2013. It is now paying off handsomely and contributing solidly to the company’s revenue stream. And in mid-January, it wrapped up the massive conversion of the Bank of America consumer card portfolio after working on it two years.
Woods also ticked off a number of statistics during the meeting to indicate how large TSYS has grown through the years. It is the top-ranked third-party card processor in the U.S., Canada and China, he said, and No. 2 in Europe. In the prepaid card arena, it is No. 2, he said.
The firm, which employs about 10,000 worldwide, does business in more than 80 countries and handles 700 million accounts of some type overall. Its services “touch” 49 million individuals or businesses each day.
The CEO also pointed to the potential, saying 85 percent of the population around the world still uses cash or checks for transactions. About 60 percent of those walking around with smartphones don’t now use them for financial transactions, he said. And the unserved market for prepaid cards is about 65 million in the U.S. and 2.5 billion globally.
“I think we have a lot of runway to grow,” he said.
Asked after the shareholder meeting if he felt any pressure to deliver future results and security to clients, shareholders, employees and the Columbus community in general, Woods conceded it’s a “pretty daunting responsibility,” but one that he readily accepts.
“They clearly look at the CEO to set the vision, to set the tone at the top,” he said. “But, as I indicated, we’ve got 10,000 people who know what they’re supposed to be doing, know their jobs. We’ve just got to keep them directed, and charge up the hill. I think we’ll do a great job with that.”