Magazine article American Banker

For CEO, Visa International Reaches outside Membership

Magazine article American Banker

For CEO, Visa International Reaches outside Membership

Article excerpt

In a departure, Visa International has hired as chief executive officer someone who has never worked for a Visa card issuer.

Christopher J. Rodrigues, 54, was named president and CEO-elect of the payment network's global umbrella company on Tuesday. He had resigned Monday night as the group chief executive of Bradford & Bingley PLC, a U.K. savings and loan company that does not issue credit cards.

Visa typically hires the head of a major issuer for the high-profile job, sealing in the brand allegiance of that member bank. Mr. Rodrigues' predecessor, Malcolm Williamson, who left Monday, had been the CEO of Standard Chartered PLC, a major credit card issuer in the United Kingdom and Asia. And William Boardman, who is to be Visa's interim CEO until Mr. Rodrigues arrives in June, was the vice chairman of Bank One Corp., Visa's largest issuer in the United States.

Mr. Rodrigues, who will move from the Yorkshire town of Bingley to Visa's headquarters city, San Francisco, did once work for American Express Co. -- but has not done so since 1988, when the payments market looked very different from today's highly consolidated, debit-focused, technology-driven business. He spent nine years at the New York company, lastly as the managing director of travel and travel management services in Amex's London office.

Before working at Bradford & Bingley, he was the CEO of the foreign exchange operator Thomas Cook, which is owned by Travelex PLC.

Reacting to Tuesday's surprise announcement -- Mr. Boardman's interim appointment was announced only last week, and Visa said then that the search for a permanent CEO was still on -- sources said hiring an outsider might not be a bad idea.

"Maybe Visa is trying to make this job more important than it's been in the past," said Michael Auriemma, the head of Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., a payments consulting firm in Westbury, N.Y.

"Regulatory changes around the world, intense competition, new technology, outside parties -- there are so many fundamental issues attacking the core of what the associations [Visa and MasterCard International] are," Mr. Auriemma said. Choosing a new leader from one of the member banks would "bring a predetermined view of what Visa ought to be."

"It could be a better idea to bring someone from outside of the market, who's not tainted by what been going on," he said.

Mr. Williamson's five-year tenure saw major developments in the industry, some deleterious. Regulatory scrutiny on Visa and on MasterCard intensified on an international scale, with antitrust challenges brought by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. Merchants also began organizing to step up their demands from the networks. (They succeeded in the U.S. Wal-Mart suit.) And such Visa rivals as MasterCard, American Express, and even First Data Co. …

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