As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry. Barry McCarthy was named President and CEO of Deluxe in November 2018. Barry is also a member of its Board of Directors.
Prior to joining Deluxe, Barry spent 14 years at First Data Corporation, where he served in a variety of senior executive positions, most recently executive vice president and head of Network and Security Solutions, a $1.5 billion publicly reported segment of the company. Barry is an accomplished executive and financial technology leader with an extensive track record of developing and building tech-driven solutions for financial institutions and small businesses. His strong background in product development, sales, marketing and technology innovation have supported the significant growth of companies from a Silicon Valley start-up, to major divisions of global Fortune 250 organizations.
Barry earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and attended the University of Illinois.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I began my career in product development, sales and marketing spending 12 years at Procter & Gamble. I earned my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Since that first role, I have enjoyed a series of roles with increasing responsibility, including being an entrepreneur, venturing into leading a business in Silicon Valley. Prior to my current role as president and CEO of Deluxe, I spent 14 years at First Data, where I was responsible at various times for nearly every division within the company. I served in a variety of senior executive positions, most recently executive vice president and head of its Network & Security Solutions business, a diversified and growing, $1.5B publicly reported segment of the Company
I have lived all over the country and run businesses around the world. I am a direct, candid and, passionate leader who tries to inspire others to achieve more than they thought was possible. I believe in transparency, telling people what I know when I know it. I serve or have served as a director of organizations including The Minneapolis Business Partnership, Junior Achievement of Georgia, The Woodruff Arts Center, Catholic Charities and FinTech Atlanta, where I was proud to support the creation of the University System of Georgia’s FinTech Academy. My background is in Fintech, where I have developed and built technology-driven solutions for financial institutions and small businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m lucky to have had many great experiences in my career. Let me tell you about two things that have happened in the 16 months while I’ve been here at Deluxe. When I became CEO of this proud 105-year-old company at the end of 2018, Deluxe had grown to nearly a $2 billion revenue company, but the company was only growing through acquisitions, not through innovation. We set-out to transform the company from a legacy check printer into a Trusted Business Technology™ company. I wanted the company to think and act like a tech company — to make decisions quickly, move faster and constantly reinvent. To achieve this, I needed to change how our team thought about the company, and themselves.
First, we instilled an ownership mindset. Central to every tech company is the concept of “ownership” where employees and shareholders are deeply aligned around the company’s success. Tech companies grant stock to all employees to ensure that alignment exists, so when the company succeeds the employee and their family succeed, too. Early in my tenure, I asked the Board to support me in granting stock to all of our employees in North America. I’m lucky to have a supportive Board, and we made grants to everyone in April of 2019. Immediately, the questions and employee engagement started to change. Everyone started to feel ownership in their work. What our employees are doing is more than just a job, they own part of the company and the outcomes now. It has been pretty amazing to watch.
Second, we needed to demonstrate how this 105-year-old giant could move quickly and adopt new technology. At my first board meeting as the new CEO, I asked for support to grant stock to everyone, and to support a massive investment in modernizing our obsolete tech platforms. Pretty unusual first board meeting! We attacked six areas of our technology infrastructure, but had a unique opportunity with our antiquated CRM tools (actually 14 different tools) to manage our customer relationships. As the first quarter of my time as CEO was closing, we had an opportunity to strike a particularly good deal with Salesforce. But we needed to get the deal done within hours — not the usual months. I was in my office at nearly 2 a.m. in between the two-day board meeting with the team getting it done. I arrived at the board meeting the next morning with the deal closed, including some incredible mutual opportunities that have since become a strategic alliance between the companies. Our board and company was more accustomed to talking about an issue and then meeting again two months later to make a decision. What I learned is that people are eager to follow a leader who will move forward with vision and speed. We could move fast and make great decisions by being bold and demonstrating an all-in, can-do approach.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have had the tremendous good fortune to have met and studied under the amazing Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. He has provided me with tremendous insight into making myself a better manager and leader, but also empowering our people to strive to do more. I am a firm believer in trying new things, in always seeking to engage and grow. We don’t look back. That is how I challenge my people, and how Jim Collins’ work has helped me think about what I do. One of his books, Built to Last, has a lot of insight that I use, such as always questioning how we can do something better. When I first arrived at Deluxe, I met some resistance to new ideas. This is natural because I came into a company with a deep heritage and many people had worked there a long time. But I wanted to think and act like a tech company. Make quick, decisive decisions. Many times, I heard: “that isn’t how we do things,” so I pushed. I didn’t want to rest on good enough. I wanted great. I told my team, my ideas may not be right, but prove me wrong first before we say we can’t do something. Tell me why something won’t work. Once we got over that hurdle, we started to take off.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I was named president and CEO of a company that had been around for 105 years, I had to immerse myself in the culture. I knew that Deluxe had a long history of giving back to the community and extensive employee volunteer efforts, but I had to really understand our impact across all of the businesses to see what kind of impact my own vision can have.
Deluxe is a purpose- and values-driven company. We build the fabric of our world by “Championing business so communities thrive.” “Doing the right thing” is one of our five core values. We all live these values and purpose every day. We believe in diversity and inclusion. We believe in helping our communities thrive.
To demonstrate our commitment, we produce a reality television show that airs on Hulu and Prime Video called Small Business Revolution. This show provides a makeover to the businesses in one small town each year where we capture the true power of the American Dream. We take that very seriously because we aren’t just showcasing our marketing tools, we are providing advice and best practices to help these businesses thrive. After five years of our show, every single business we have helped — more than 30 — are all still in business. That is something that has giving our employees a great sense of pride.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
From day one when I arrived at Deluxe, I told our team and our employee-owners, that I would tell them what I know, when I know it. Transparency builds trust. Hiding things or delaying communication destroys trust. I believe in treating teammates like adults. We are all grown-ups and can deal with the whole truth.
When you are at the helm of a business this size, you have to have a number of principles to guide you through the ups and downs of running the business. And especially in the last few months, where we as a team are tackling issues none of us thought we would encounter. From the COVID-19 pandemic to social and racial diversity and inclusion issues we all must encounter, communication remains key.
Deluxe has undergone a significant company transformation in the last 18 months. We have flattened our organization and reduced our overall real estate footprint. At the same time, we have invested significantly in our technology and revamped our sales structure, closing four of the ten largest deals in our company’s history in the last few months. None of this could be done without a motivated team behind me, so it is incumbent on me to keep everyone informed. To me, that means sharing information as I have it, even when we are still learning about a situation. We provide follow-up information as things change, but my team and our entire company must hear directly from me as we continue our transformation. That really helps drive our engagement.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Like many families, I have children at home. One should be off at college, but he came home when the campus closed. My middle son was a senior in high school. He missed the Sadie Hawkins dance, Prom, Baccaluareate, graduation and so much more. He resorted to virtual college tours to make his final selection. My youngest child missed out on multiple opportunities, from being a retreat leader to seeing the dances she planned happen for the school. And, everyone had to find a way to attend class from home while I was working from home.
All of this was disappointing and, in some cases, heartbreaking.
We decided to celebrate key milestones anyway with a weekend getaway. We had my son and daughter bring their prom tuxedo and gown to the lake. My wife and I got dressed in our formal attire too. Then we had our own private “picture party” lakeside with a fancy dinner. We did the same thing for my son’s graduation — taking pictures in his cap and gown. This made great memories, much laughter and a good time by all. Of course, it wasn’t the same as the actual events, but we made lemonade out of life’s lemons.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
With 6,500 employees in more than 80 locations, we are a traditional office-based operation. Our investment in technology paid off when we were forced to send our employees home for work to keep them safe when the pandemic hit. Within three-and-a-half weeks, we moved more than 1,100 workers — previously designed to be in an office setting — to work from home, improved our server capacity and invested in secure systems to ensure we kept our client data safe. We also instituted virtual training and, due to an earlier investment in Microsoft TEAMS, had the bandwidth and the capacity to conduct business as usual across our company. Now, as the economy begins to slowly rebound, more than two-thirds of our workforce can work from home, creating social distance space for our team members still at essential sites.
We also had locations across the country that were deemed essential to the economy. We kept those locations open by creating social distancing space, giving employees Personal Protective Equipment, implementing temperature taking measures and more. We also instituted a 20 percent pay reduction to many of our employees through the second quarter in order to reserve cash while also increasing pay by $2 per hour for those frontline workers in essential sites. We called this “Hero Pay.”
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have children in high school and one in college. I am used to traveling a great deal in my career. Once everything in the world came to a halt, for the first time in a long while we were all home together. But we are a close family and we used the time wisely. We learned how to get an education from home. I learned how to run a company from my house. We shared our fears and concerns as a family, as I know everyone throughout Deluxe did as well. We communicated — that is how we managed this situation and how we will continue to manage it going forward. Being open and honest is the best way to better understand how to cope.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Our economy will look different for a long time. At Deluxe, one area that has already changed is our Promotional Products division. As small businesses were hit hard, and with the stoppage of in-person conferences, the market for promotional products dropped dramatically. Companies are not purchasing apparel, printed products or swag, but a new market has opened up: Personal Protective Equipment. Because of our vast supplier network, we are able to source PPE for our clients — everything from masks to hand sanitizer, gloves and other equipment. Even more importantly, we are also packaging kits for businesses that include banners to indicate if they are open to the public; floor decals to share social distancing rules; signage within a facility to help with employee movement, etc. This is a significant new market for us.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
We are able to do more from remote locations than ever before. We are going to see so many more of our employees move to home offices. Before the pandemic, Deluxe was looking at our overall real estate footprint and we noticed that we had far too many locations where we had a handful to a dozen or so individuals. We found that once we moved people to work from home in the last few months, they could be just as productive in those locations. So, we are closing some of our offices and instituting a permanent work-from-home policy for those employees.
Secondly, I think business travel is going to retract significantly over the next couple of years. I don’t see this as permanent, but we have proven the ability to do more via video conference than ever before. Deluxe invested in Microsoft TEAMS technology last year, and according to Microsoft, we were the first company to place TEAMS across all of our associates. This enabled us to function seamlessly during the pandemic. We have all seen the commercial now, but we truly are living on TEAMS during this time.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are in the midst of a transformation as a company and that will continue for the foreseeable future, but we are also realistic in knowing our company will look different in the future. Some parts of our business have changed and may be permanently changed. At the same time, we are seeing growth in our Payments space — even in this challenging time — and we are seeing our cross-sell opportunities grow. That is incredible for us.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Right now, I encourage other companies to step forward to make a difference in our world. We are looking inward to be a more inclusive and diverse company. Others are doing the same. We are creating materials and an online community to help small business survive this trying time. I think other companies should lean into working together to help bridge our differences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
This quote from Jim Collins’s book Good to Great is one that resonates with me and my current journey at Deluxe. When I took over as CEO of the company in 2018, I embarked on a mission to transform this storied company into a cutting-edge technology solutions provider. Lucky for me, Deluxe already had an incredible workforce built on teamwork and togetherness.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Twitter — @Barrydeluxecorp
LinkedIn — linkedin.com/in/barrycmccarthy