Thierry Denis | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
America’s Real French Connection
By Robert Green
It’s hard to think of a French company that touches more American lives than Ingenico. The payment terminal device manufacturer – think card swipe at check out – is the company logo you see when paying for goods at places such as AT&T, The Home Depot and the US Postal Service. Recently rebranded as Ingenico Group, the company is taking on even more customers and aims to become the global leader in seamless payments. For all he has accomplished to make the company strong in the US, Ingenico President of North America Thierry Denis may rightly be referred to as America’s real French Connection.
Thierry Denis was born in Charenton, France, just outside of Paris, and was always interested in technology. He would frequently take apart and then put back together clocks, calculators and computers just to see how they worked and from a young age he knew that he wanted to work outside of France. “My goal was to work in the US – especially New York City,” he says.
Thierry studied electronics, mostly radar and satellite technology, went to the University of Coventry in Great Britain where he completed his thesis and then received his Diploma in Engineering back in France from ENSEA. “I enjoyed being in the English countryside very much,” he says, “This was also the time that I really began to master English, talking to people constantly but also reading novels in English.
After college, Thierry faced a mandatory one year stint in the military, but a possible alternative was working for a French company abroad. Wanting very much to work abroad, Thierry applied to the state sponsored program but also took the initiative to do something more. French payment company Ingenico had a person working under this program in Northampton, England whose tenure in the program was almost up. Thierry went to Northampton to meet with him. “I got him to tell me everything he knew and everything he did,” he says. Immediately after graduation from ENSEA, Thierry went to Paris where he met with Ingenico CTO and co-Founder, Michel Malhouitre. “He was intrigued that I had taken the time to meet their guy in England and also that I knew what he had been doing there,” he says. Impressed, Thierry was given the job and started in Paris in October 1990. But because it was an alternative to military service, he now had to get state approval. During this lengthy approval process, Ingenico decided to close their office in England. Fortunately, the company then gave Thierry the choice of working instead in either Spain or Australia. “Of course I wanted to work on the other side of the world – so I picked Australia,” he says.
“My year in the Paris office was extremely important for the rest of my career,” Thierry says. “Since I have spent most of my career working for the company in countries around the world, getting to know all the people at headquarters has been very valuable in helping me to achieve company goals.”
After his year in Paris, Thierry left for Australia in October 1991 where he got more deeply involved in payments. “Australia had a real credit and debit type system unlike France which had more of a combination of those (deferred debit) type of system,” he said. Thierry also discovered that payment systems had more “local” nuances than he had thought. Adjustments had to be made. “This was the beginning of the real acceleration of the electronic payments system and we were all extremely busy. We only had 15 people in Australia. We were working night and day, weekends, whatever it took,” he says.
After 15 months, Thierry went back to Paris for six months to work on a project for Oslo, Norway. Then the company won business in Singapore and Thierry was selected to run the technical side of the implementation. “I spent two years in Singapore working on an electronic purse program called ‘CashCard,’” he says. “Singapore is a great place to start something new in technology because from there it migrates to other parts of the Asia-Pacific,” he says. “I loved working in Singapore – loved Asian culture,” he says. “A lot of people complained about the heat – but I liked the heat.”
After his time in Singapore, Thierry went back to Paris for a year to work on developing a new program for China. Then, in 1996, he was asked to go back to Australia to run research and development as well as application development. While in Australia, Thierry was able to move local solutions to the same technology as that used by Ingenico in Europe. He and his family were getting very settled in the country and in 2004 he became an Australian citizen. “I’m very proud that me and my family are citizens of Australia,” he says, “because the country truly embraces the things we value highly, like cultural differences. We live in the US now, but when we talk about ‘going home,’ we mean to Australia,” he says. “Europe is a place to visit, but Australia is home. We go back to Sydney every 18 months. My kids speak French and German in addition to English, but they are Australian through and through,” he says.
In March of 2011, Thierry was asked to run Ingenico in the US. “There were a lot of challenges,” he says. “Verifone and Hypercom were dominant and it was difficult for us to move in. So we tried to buy Hypercom US.” But when the deal was blocked by the Department of Justice, the job became more difficult. “I met with everyone and said that we would just have to do it ourselves – grow organically,” he says. Thierry worked on getting Ingenico certified to do business with major processors and ISO’s, starting with Chase and FAPS (First American Payment Systems). He spent 18 months building a new team. “We had to do a lot of application development work for the certifications, but we did it,” he says. Then he went to the marketplace. “My message was that the past is past – I had a dynamic, new Ingenico and a new team that would not disappoint,” he says. Things improved almost from the start, but the real turnaround came in 2013. “Word spread,” he says. “Payments is a large, important industry, but in many ways it’s still a small industry. Everybody knows each other and talks to each other.”
Thierry effected change in the company by doing something simple but powerful. “I wanted to create a customer centric organization to ensure that we always deliver what was expected of us. I also ensured that we put integrity at the heart of our discussions with clients. Do not tell a customer it will take 3 months because he wants that answer when you know it will take 6 months. We have also created a very strong partner program that enables us to always have the right solution for the customers.”
Ingenico executives in Paris are naturally thrilled that their investment in the U.S. market has paid off. “What I am most proud of,” says Thierry, “is that the executive team in Paris recognizes that our U.S. success is due to the U.S. team as a whole. That is very important to me.” He is in constant contact with the leadership in Paris and goes there three to four times a year to meet in person.
Thierry believes that the future for Ingenico is bright. “Our revenues in the U.S. will double in 2014 compared to 2012 and the company is well prepared for future innovations in the industry,” he says. Starting next year, many more U.S. merchants will be moving to the new EMV or “chip and pin,” model of card payment. Long standard in Europe, where Ingenico dominates, the company is well versed in dealing with such changes. It also has a separate new division, ROAM, to deal with mobile payments. “We are innovating quickly,” he says. “If you go into an AT&T store today, you will be greeted by a service representative with an I-Pad who can show you products and let you pay electronically, all without going to the counter, just like they do at Apple. We worked with AT&T to develop that.” The company will also be providing much more in the way of software solutions in the future. “Today in Europe we are testing a concept called Omni channel, which combines online sales with in-store sales. This will make things much easier for merchants to accept payment from the consumers wherever they decide to start or finish their transaction, from online to offline and mobile,” he says.
Today’s Ingenico is much more customer centric, Thierry says, and he doesn’t just mean his usual merchant customer. “Today we ask ‘how does the consumer want to pay?’ We have to support any payment method that he chooses. We don’t want the merchant to lose a single sale,” he says.
Married for 20 years, Thierry has a daughter who will attend college from September in Edinburgh, Scotland, a son who will be senior at a local high school and another son starting eighth grade at a school here in Atlanta.
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