Carlos Navarro | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
A Connecting Experience
By Robert Green
Carlos Navarro will tell you that connections are the most important thing in life. Whether connecting to customers, to his family or to a memorable past, he knows that the experience of connecting well is what links purchasers to sellers and people to each other. As the Chief Marketing Officer of Elavon, he employs this knowledge to make each customer experience one they will want to repeat again and again.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana to first generation Cuban immigrants Carlos saw early on the importance of family and the value of hard work. His parents had lived first in Miami after leaving Cuba in 1961, shortly after Castro came to power, then moved to New Orleans in 1966. “My father felt that he needed a good, stable job with benefits, because of the family,” says Carlos, “so he put on a suit and tie every day for 40 straight days and waited in the lobby of IBM for job openings. This was after working all night at his restaurant job.” To this day, the family isn’t sure if the right opening finally came up or the IBM human resources people were just tired of seeing him, but he got a job and made a successful career at IBM. In 1977 the company moved the family to Atlanta.
Carlos liked Atlanta, where he attended Marist and became interested in Industrial Engineering through the father of a friend. The very math centric Marist insured that Carlos was accepted into the School of Industrial Systems and Engineering at Georgia Tech which was then, as now, ranked as the top program in that field. But his college co-op job at IBM gave him a glimpse of another field to which he was immediately attracted. “My co-op job forced me to think about things from a sales standpoint,” says Carlos, “and I found that I really liked sales and marketing.” He nevertheless completed his degree in Industrial Engineering. Because his girlfriend, now wife, was offered a job at Sun Bank in Orlando, Carlos moved to Orlando as well and accepted a position in sales at IBM.
“We were given a full year of sales training,” say Carlos. “It’s kind of amazing when I look back on it,” he says, “because no company does anything like it today. The program was extensive, exhaustive and world class.” When he later began selling in the field, Walt Disney was one of his accounts. “Working with Disney was an important experience for me, “ he says. “I couldn’t help but admire the importance that they placed on innovation – letting people experiment with new ideas or technologies – and all to help people connect to a great experience. Our new Grove here at Elavon is like that.” The Grove that Carlos refers to is a new innovation center the
payment processor is developing in Atlanta to concentrate on the coming boom in mobile payments. A second “Grove” will later be set up in Europe.
After nearly four years with IBM, Carlos was recruited into new small company in Chicago called Marketing Information Systems. “It had 50 employees,” said Carlos, “whereas IBM had 250,000 at the time, so you see the difference. But I wanted to learn business fundamentals without a safety net and boy did I ever do that.” In a small company, there was no passing the buck – nowhere to hide. There were no layers of management above him to “check off” on his decisions. “It’s great experience for a business person to see and feel – up close and personal -what a P&L is, how sales drives growth and how to concentrate on what’s really important.”
Carlos came back to Atlanta in 1997 to run sales management for Brock Control Systems, a small but stable company, and where he discovered that his unique combination of large company/small company experience made him quite valuable for any company that wanted to grow in the right way. The next year, a friend from IBM called to ask him to join InForte, a company focused on customer relationship management, business analytics and consulting. Carlos ran the CRM practice. The company grew to $70 million a year in revenue and went public. It was later acquired by French company Business & Decision in 2001. Carlos was immediately recruited into CTG (Computer Task Group) to run the east coast from Atlanta. “It was a nice challenge,” says Carlos, “but not nearly as challenging as growing a company and taking it public. I had time to recharge and reconnect with my family because I went from being responsible for the whole world to just the east coast of the US.” CTG wanted to move from a pure staffing model and into true consulting. Carlos again ran a P&L and got rigorous financial management experience. “Cash flow is so important in staffing and consulting,” said Carlos, “you have to watch the money every second.”
In 2006, Carlos moved to eLoyalty, a CRM company that used technology to show customer service representatives in call centers how best to deal with customers. “I was intrigued by the offering,” said Carlos. “The technology was developed by NASA to immediately evaluate what was said in order to tell how much stress astronauts were truly feeling. We used it, combined with suggested appropriate responses, to improve the customer experience – the customer service rep was better able to deal with what the customer was feeling.” Carlos ran the insurance vertical for this publicly traded company.
A friend of Carlos’s at Atlanta based payment processor Elavon called him in 2008 to ask him to join the company. He started as Senior Vice President of Sales Operations and was also responsible for some sales channels as well as account relationship management. Carlos spent his first year and a half working to strengthen the sales process as well as cross selling, upselling and sales support. By 2010, he took over a large portion of shared services - Marketing, of course, and Professional Services; a new group that provides services to customers that helps them manage and reduce their interchange costs, charge backs and fraud prevention. “These services raise significant revenue from the customer and provide stickiness,” says Carlos, “we aren’t just an ‘I want it processed’ company.” Elavon provides Professional Services to its customers in the US, Europe and Latin America. “While we make good money from Professional Services, their real value is in strengthening the customer relationship,” says Carlos, “because they add value and remove risk.”
Carlos became Chief Marketing Officer of Elavon in 2011 and has kept professional services as well. He has been primarily focused on two things in the CMO role; customer experience and social media. He spends a lot of his time promoting a focus on the customer and asking two important questions – what type of customer focused company do we want to be? And, what
type of experience do we want the customer to have? On social media, we have to figure out who the customer is, how do we sell to them and how do we provide service after the sale. “We have to be very strategic in social media,” says Carlos, “because mistakes are instant and word spreads fast.”
“I keep coming back to customer experience,” says Carlos, “because customers are more demanding than ever. Your customer experience has to be excellent because customers don’t just compare apples to apples anymore. What I mean is, today, a customer will compare their experience of dealing with us – or any company - against their experience in dealing with Amazon, or whatever their best customer experience was. You have to compare favorably.”
He sees plenty of innovation in Elavon’s future. “We’ll be at the forefront of electronic wallets and loyalty programs. And we’ll be finding ways to increase sales and bring new customers to our customers,” he says. “Our job will be to bring technology to bear so that the customers of our merchants are delighted and the merchant is also delighted because he’s making more sales.” He also sees payment processing at the counter only being one of several options. “In the future, we’ll probably be processing payments in ways that hasn’t even been thought of yet,” he says, “but the customer connection – based on a great customer experience - will still be the most important business driver. Technology won’t change human nature. Customers – people – will continue to want to repeat good experience and avoid bad ones.”
Carlos met his wife Tricia when both were juniors at Georgia Tech. They have been married for 22 years and have two children, aged 15 and 11.