Elavon CEO Jamie Walker
Elavon CEO Jamie Walker attributes much of his success to the wonderful upbringing he obtained from his parents. “My mother taught discipline and my father taught me how to problem solve,” he says. “Best of all, I was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them in a stable environment.”
Jamie Walker was born and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attending Chestnut Hill Academy preparatory school from kindergarten through 12th grade. “I was a big math guy in school and I loved physics,” he says, “so I’ve always been more of a fact based person.” Walker’s father was an executive with PNC Bank where he ran its ATM business and his mother worked as an event planner. In his school years, he played ice hockey and baseball.
Because he wanted a change in location after high school, Walker looked at two colleges in the south – Washington & Lee and Emory. “Frankly, Washington & Lee’s cafeteria looked exactly like the one in my high school and that made my 18-year-old brain think that it wouldn’t be enough of a change for me,” he says, “plus I knew that I would be playing baseball at Emory.” Moving to Atlanta, he majored in Accounting and Marketing. Upon graduation, he went into public accounting with Ernst & Young in 1999.
“I got great training at EY,” says Walker. “I learned how to navigate through an organization, how to manage my own time and how to pay constant attention to details.” His first client with EY was a payment processor based in Atlanta called Nova Information Systems. “I wasn’t exclusive on Nova, but I probably gave them 60% of my time,” he says. In May of 2001, Walker got an unexpected offer from the CFO of Nova to join his team as a permanent employee. “It was an exciting offer because Nova was growing so fast, but I needed to take time to decide whether or not to leave a career in public accounting,” he said. “I decided to take the offer, but before joining Nova was acquired by U.S. Bank.
Walker immediately went into the Financial Operations Group where he had eight people working for him. The first major job had to do with the purchase of Nova by U.S. Bank. “I volunteered to spend time at U.S. Bank headquarters in Minneapolis working on the integration of finance. The year I spent going up there was very helpful in my getting to know the company and people,” he says.
By 2002, he had taken over the entire Financial Operations Group and had 60 people working for him. “We were growing rapidly in Europe,” he says. “In 2003 we did three large acquisitions in the UK, Poland and Norway. This doubled the size of the company in Europe and I spent 75% of my time over the next 18 months in Europe.”
By this time, Walker had become the Senior Vice President of the Financial Operations Group and was setting up a Global Financial Operations Group so that he could consolidate finances from all countries under one shared service. In 2005, the company bought Citibank’s European card portfolio, which was quite large. “I was spending even more time than ever in Europe,” he says.
“We were extremely busy during this time period and I have to say I learned a lot from my direct boss, CFO Steve Stevenson,” Walker says. “He was very honest and transparent. He taught me how to make tough decisions. I also learned that you have to have the right people working for you. It’s impossible to do everything yourself.”
In 2008, when Stevenson left Elavon, Walker became CFO. Walker had developed a great relationship with then CEO Stuart Harvey because they had worked together on numerous acquisitions. “He coached me a lot and helped me to grow,” he says.
It goes without saying that the major event of his early years as CFO of Elavon were taken up by the financial crisis. “I think we managed it pretty well,” says Walker. “U.S. Bank didn’t have a single losing quarter, nor did we have to do any layoffs. Everyone at U.S. Bank took a 5% pay cut, but I think that actually helped us preserve our culture. We’ve always been an ‘all in this together’ kind of workplace,” he says. Elavon did make moves during this time, however, venturing into Spain and Latin America and also starting their own global gateway or e-business.
In late 2015, Walker was selected to become the Chief Administrative Officer for Payments at U.S. Bank. “That move really took me out of Elavon operations,” he says. “Instead, my job was to look at strategy for the next three years in payments and figure out the opportunities to grow. I got to step back and look at things from a high level. Essentially, I was taking an analyst’s view of the company,” he says.
Although he knew that he wanted to become a CEO one day, he didn’t expect the chance to come so soon. Elavon CEO Simon Haslam decided to leave the company at the end of 2016 and the opportunity presented itself. After doing an executive search, U.S. Bank selected Walker to become the CEO of Elavon in February of this year.
As CEO of the company, Walker is especially proud to recite some of the company’s main accomplishments. “Elavon is the fifth largest merchant acquirer in the US and the sixth largest in Europe. We have a vast distribution network through many large banks and other distributors. Most of all, we have one single platform which allows greater profitability for our shareholders,” he says. Elavon is also much further ahead of their competitors on the EMV conversion.
In the future, Walker expects that the company will focus more on ecommerce and card-not-present transactions. They will invest more in new innovation via their internal “start-up,” known as the “Grove” and will probably be more acquisitive.
Elavon has a low percentage of big box retailers,” and that has become a blessing at this point,” he says. “These retailers are struggling and so are the owners of the real estate beneath them.”
The company’s main vertical concentrations are airlines, hospitality and healthcare. They are number one in airlines and number five in healthcare. “I’m sure that we benefit from the fact that the transactions we tend to focus on are not easy transactions,” he says. “There tends to be a higher barrier to entry in these verticals.” Things are going well for the company.
For all his success, Walker makes it a point to give credit to the executives who came before him and set an example that he tries to follow today.
“Shailesh Kotwal our vice chairman of payments has pushed my focus and drive towards building a unique value proposition for our customers through our combined strengths. Also his ability to ask the tough questions and hold me accountable has prepared me for the role,” Walker says.
“Pam Joseph was CEO and Chairman of Elavon and also Vice Chairman of U.S. Bank and working for her was great. Pam was extremely loyal to her people – she took care of you. She expected a lot,” he says, “you didn’t want to ever be unprepared – but she took care of you and pushed you at the same time.”
“Mike Passilla was CEO of Elavon in recent years and he was such a decent, wonderful guy, very genuine. I learned a lot about sales from Mike, among other things,” he says. At 41, Walker is probably the youngest CEO of a major payment processor in the U.S., but he feels certain that his age is irrelevant. “I’ve been in this business nearly two decades,” he says, “and I’m very confident about the future.”
Walker has now lived in Atlanta since college and loves it here. He is married and has two boys who attend Woodward Academy.