TSYS announces retirement of CEO Tomlinson at end of July

Credit-card and payment processor TSYS said Monday that longtime Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Philip W. Tomlinson is retiring at the end of July, with M. Troy Woods, the company’s president, succeeding him.

Woods will remain president and add the title of CEO, while Tomlinson keeps executive chairman of the board duties until the next annual meeting of shareholders in April of next year, the firm said.

TSYS said Tomlinson, 67, made the decision to retire and the move to replace him with Woods was approved by the firm’s board of directors.

This will cap a 40-year career by Tomlinson at the global card processor, which was created out of Columbus Bank and Trust and became a subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp. before being spun off as a publicly traded company in 1983. He was executive vice president at that time, rising to president in 1992 and then succeeding Richard Ussery as CEO in 2004.

Tomlinson on Monday called his career of working with TSYS employees and clients “both my greatest honor and the opportunity of a lifetime.”

He has worked with Woods for 27 years and said the current move is part of a well thought out succession plan and that he expected a “seamless” transition.

“Troy has the acumen, vision and energy needed to take TSYS further along its journey to be the leading global payments solutions provider,” he said.

Woods, 63, started at CB&T in 1970, then spent a decade with AmSouth Bank in Birmingham, Ala., returning to the company in 1987. He was promoted to president and chief operating officer of TSYS in 2004 just as Tomlinson was taking the top spot.

As the president and CEO, Woods inherits a company that has grown to nearly 10,000 employees worldwide, roughly 4,500 of them earning a paycheck in Columbus. He has focused intently on expansion overseas, particularly in Europe, and has spearheaded strategic planning, client negotiations and the launch of the firm’s patented TS2 processing system.

TSYS racked up $2.1 billion in revenue in 2013 through its operations in 80-plus countries, and made the largest acquisition in its history last year with the $1.4 billion purchase of Austin, Texas-based NetSpend Holdings, a prepaid card firm that is expected to help grow earnings in a major way in coming years.

Woods also takes charge at a time when data security is at a premium, with information hackers and financial criminals from far-flung locations attempting to infiltrate systems of TSYS and its clients. Tomlinson, in a May Ledger-Enquirer interview, discussed the challenge.

“It’s more difficult today than it’s ever been in history,” he said. “We spend millions of dollars on an annual basis protecting our client’s information and our information. We have people trying to hack us everyday. Fortunately, nobody has ever made it through the door. In this business, you never say never, but we’re doing everything that we know that is humanly possible to prevent that, and our track record is pretty good.”

In that same interview, Tomlinson didn’t tip his hand that his retirement as CEO was approaching, saying he had no current plans to do so and that he was still having fun and enjoyed running the business. He has suffered from a paralyzed vocal cord in recent months and acknowledged it was a frustrating dilemma because of its effect on his speech.

Woods had been stepping in of late during earnings calls with stock analysts who follow the company, going over most of the details to ease the strain on Tomlinson’s voice.

But Tomlinson, in the recent interview, praised Woods and other executives for their help with those duties.

“I think that’s a real test of a great company when someone can have a problem, whether it be illness or something personal and they are taken out of the picture for a period of time whether it be a month or six months, and nothing changes,” he said. “Nothing slows down; it just keeps on churning, it keeps grinding.”

Tomlinson, who at times can be somewhat homespun with his remarks, would often refer to the “secret sauce” that TSYS uses to operate the company, gain new clients, and make them happy. And that sauce, he would say, is its people. The CEO also frequently expressed pride at being named one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere magazine.

The top-level executive moves were announced after the stock market’s close Monday. During the day, shares slipped 9 cents to $30.76 apiece in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock’s 52-week trading range is $22.64 to $33.44 per share.