Ed O’Hare | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Twist of Fate Pays Off for Elavon Executive
By Karen Rosen
A honeymoon brought Ed O’Hare to Atlanta and he wasn’t even married at the time.
O’Hare had just graduated from Villanova in 1987, taken the summer off and was all set to join Bear Stearns on Wall Street.
His future boss, however, was going on his honeymoon. He said O’Hare could start immediately with someone else showing him the ropes or wait a week for him to return.
“I said, ‘I’ll wait a week,’” O’Hare says, “and the market crashes.”
He laughs. “Looking back, it’s fate! I decided Atlanta was greener pastures since no one was hiring on Wall Street.”
Nearly three decades later, O’Hare is SVP Global Corporate Development at Elavon, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp and a leading global payments provider.
Instead of becoming a major player on Wall Street, he’s made his mark on Transaction Alley.
“This is a very dynamic industry,” says O’Hare, who is on the board of the American Transaction Processors Coalition. “When I recruit or talk to people about the business, I can promise it’s not going away. People buy stuff. And some sort of value has to be exchanged when you buy something.
“Whether it’s with paper money, credit cards, bitcoin, mobile or whatever comes down the road, this business is secure.”
O’Hare joined Nova Information Systems -- which eventually became Elavon -- in 1992. The only moving he has done since then has been to different office space around the Concourse Corporate Center.
Taking on his current role in 2007, O’Hare develops and presents proposals to financial institutions and payment companies around the world. He is responsible for all acquisition-related due diligence and contract negotiations and accountable for all Business Alliance contract extensions globally.
O’Hare has closed on four International Joint Venture and Business Alliances with global financial institutions, executed a transaction with a leading payment software company to enable a new business line and integrated and launched a Global Corporate Development team.
O’Hare says people often remark on the length of time he’s spent with the company, now going on 23 years.
“When I started, it wasn’t folding tables, but it was close,” he says. “Everybody pitched in; no one had a role. It was a true start-up and it was a lot of fun, especially when you’re young and you have that energy to work all those hours and just be fearless.”
O’Hare assisted with the IPO as the company went public and he saw the environment change. “People start to worry about appearances,” O’Hare says, “and there’s earnings-per-share calls and lawyers and an HR policy.”
Finally, in 2001 U.S. Bancorp, a very large, conservative Midwestern bank that was one of Nova Information Systems’ largest customers, decided to bring their business back in-house.
“It’s different being a subsidiary,” O’Hare says. “You don’t have shareholders, but you have a parent. There’s that whole other knowledge base you have to gain as far as the committees and networking your way through your parent company and other divisions.
“So I tell people, although I’ve been here a long time, I’ve actually been in three different companies.”
O’Hare grew up in an environment that pointed him toward a business career.
He lived in Queens, N.Y., until he was about 12, then moved to Long Island. O’Hare interned a lot on Wall Street while he was majoring in business at Villanova.
“It was fun; fast-paced, the train and subways and the craziness,” he says. “It was a good learning experience.”
During O’Hare’s senior year, his family moved to Atlanta so his father, a longtime executive at American Express, could run another company.
Thanks to the market crash and that serendipitously timed honeymoon, O’Hare wound up in Atlanta, too.
He joined National Data Corporation, where he recalls “an endless sea of people in gray metal desks keying in the paper slips from the credit card transactions into a computer. At the point of sale, you would still do the ‘knuckle-buster,’ then boxes and boxes of this stuff would be trucked into this back office and people would do nothing but key in credit card information all day long.”
O’Hare was in charge of reports distribution, which he jokes is “one step up from the mail room,” but adds, “I was happy to have a job. I didn’t really know the industry and just kind of jumped right in.”
However, O’Hare missed his Wall Street days and, although he stayed in Atlanta, he became an assistant equity trader at Smith Barney.
Realizing there would not be a lot of movement on the trading desk, O’Hare left his full-time job for two years to pursue his MBA at the Goizueta Business School at Emory.
He interned at MasterCard, where he contributed to the planning process and assisted in the successful launch of the Acquirer Relations Pilot
O’Hare earned his MBA in 1992, coincidentally around the time of the second big crash of the stock market in his lifetime.
Some people he’d met at MasterCard and National Data had moved to Nova Information Systems and approached O’Hare about coming on board.
“Being freshly married and in desperate need of a full-time job, I said, ‘I’m in,’” he says.
When O’Hare arrived, he says Nova Information Systems had just done a few deals and was trying to participate in the consolidation of the industry.
The company had some good capital and good ownership, he adds, and grew through mergers and acquisitions and expansion to where it is today.
From fewer than 30 people, Elavon has grown to 4,000 with offices all over the world and isn’t finished.
“Our parent company, U.S. Bancorp, is looking for us to lead the charge for their growth,” O’Hare says. “They’re very supportive.
“We’re looking to grow our products organically and build them. We’re also to looking to buy companies to keep up with the speed of the market.”
O’Hare’s role has grown as well. He went from SVP Corporate Development North America to a global responsibility.
“Same job for the most part, more people,” O’Hare says. “Right now the rest of the world is following what the States has done the past 20 years with consolidation. The banks are looking to partner with people and the technology is changing so much.
“In Europe and other places it’s very competitive for me and my competitors to win these new deals.”
In the past few years, Elavon entered the Mexican and Brazilian markets and O’Hare and his team were “literally the first people on the ground to go and meet with our partners there and try to put that together.”
O’Hare says Elavon has a presence in most of Western and Central Europe and is trying to get into Asia.
“Our strategy is that we enter markets with a partner,” O’Hare says. “We’re not a company that will just go hang a sign on the door in Singapore and say, ‘We’re open for business.’ “
He says it’s best to have a partner to help navigate the local ins and outs. “Don’t assume that you know everything, because you don’t know anything,” O’Hare says.
In Mexico, Elavon created a joint venture with Santander, which had an existing merchant acquiring business there. “They looked to us to replace the technology and then to leverage our expertise in merchant acquiring,” O’Hare says.
Partnering with Citibank in Brazil, there was no existing business and Elavon had to build one, in the process hiring people and finding real estate.
“They had a credit card business, but they had no merchant business,” he says. “They decided that instead of sending it off to somebody who’s controlled by one of their competitors, why not control their own destiny and build their own business?”
O’Hare compares the experience to a start-up that relies on trust between the parties “because you really didn’t have anything to start with.”
Within the United States, his attention is focused on looking at technology companies vs. strategic acquisitions with banks and determining what the next path will be.
Many of these technology companies are in the Atlanta area, and competition is fierce among strategic companies -- such as Elavon and its competitors -- and financials including private equity firms.
“It’s red hot now concerning parts of payments technology,” O’Hare says. “For the past couple of years people have been falling all over themselves trying to invest in them, trying to buy them. It’s almost like the front page of the Wall Street Journal every week has something to do with payments.”
He says Elavon is still looking. “We’re strategic and we’re owned by a bank, so we look hard,” he says. “We don’t want to buy four companies and hope that one works.”
O’Hare spends an enormous amount of time on the road, but is trying to cut back and delegate.
When he’s home in Atlanta, he can see the buildings of some of his competitors from his office window.
“It is funny because when sales people and investment bankers come in, you just know that they’ll do an hour with me,” O’Hare says, “and then they’re going to get in the car and do an hour with my counterpart at First Data and then do an hour with my counterpart at Global Payments.”
But he says he can laugh and talk with his competitors in meetings of transactions processors.
“I don’t know if other industries are like that, but there’s very little bad blood so it’s kind of fun to go meet together,” O’Hare says.
They all recognize the importance of their work to Atlanta.
“We’re trying hard to keep our technology here and grow our technology and not let it go to Silicon Valley,” O’Hare says.
The ATPC has been drawing attention to the transactions processing industry in a bid to garner tax breaks much like the film industry has done.
“Hollywood has taken over and they’ve been extremely successful,” O’Hare says. “Before, you wouldn’t even know what a film location looked like, and now when you drive around, you see all these movies being shot and signs directing the crew where to go.
“One of our goals is to try to get the attention from the local government for our companies that are here in Atlanta and let the government know, ‘Hey, you have a big industry here, too.’ We’re quiet, we go about our business, but maybe it’s time to toot our own horn and see if we can get some attention. And then from a national perspective, it’s good because it can bring to Washington D.C., a different voice from within payments. It’s not just the people that they used to go to, which would be Visa and MasterCard who may not truly understand the situation of the people who are actually doing the transactions.
“It’s been very successful so far for a young organization.”
O’Hare has enjoyed networking and learning more about the workings of the industry and how it interacts with regulatory agencies.
He says when he started with Nova Information Systems he never imagined where the company would be today.
“And that was critical to our success back then,” O’Hare explains. “We were just excited and naïve and never thought we’d fail -- and never thought what would happen if we succeeded either.”
At home in Sandy Springs with his wife Liza, a native of Atlanta, O’Hare plays golf and watches sports involving their three sons, Edward, Andrew and Dylan. O’Hare used to coach soccer, but says, “I’ve hung up my cleats on that one.”
He says his sons, who range in age from rising high school freshman to 20-year-old college student, are part of the generation that use their phones to pay for what they buy.
“I have to remind them to take their wallet with them when they go out,” O’Hare says, “because their driver’s license is in there.”
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