Magazine article Talent Development

On the Money at Western Union

Magazine article Talent Development

On the Money at Western Union

Article excerpt

Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006. Since then, the 162-year-old company has become the world's largest money transfer company, and is changing its culture, competencies, and business model to stay competitive in the tough global remittance market. Its digital money transfer operations are the fastest growing part of the business, and its product line now includes such tools as stored-value cards and e-wallets.

Hikmet Ersek has been CEO of Western Union for three hectic years, during which he made big investments to grow the company's consumer-to-consumer business and go deeper into international business-to-business payments. In 2012, the company moved more than $160 billion between consumers and businesses around the world. With long-term shareholder value always in view, Ersek has not been afraid to shake things up, nor to use employee learning to the fullest.

We spoke with Ersek at the Denver headquarters of Western Union.

Western Union has been through a lot of change during your tenure as CEO . When you're in a situation that requires tremendous change to succeed, what do you expect from the learning function?

We've been through a lot of change, driven by our customers, whose needs are changing constantly. Not many companies are as global as we are. We face changes happening in different parts of the world, at different speeds, in different ways. Adapting our business model to deal with those global changes is difficult, especially if you are growing like we are.

So we had to take some big, bold, risky steps to help the company survive and to drive long-term shareholder value. The challenge was how to make Western Union a customer-centric company when historically it had been a transaction-based company. One thing I said to my learning organization was that this couldn't be driven from the top. Becoming customer-centric had to be understood and embraced by everyone.

Every employee, every year, has to have at least one customer experience, and many do a lot more than one. Even our leaders have to experience real transactions in the marketplace. I'm on the road 200 days a year. Sometimes I jump out of my car and go into a Western Union location to talk to the frontline associates and customers. I do this to set an example about putting the customer first. We teach this at WU University as well.

Many CEOs start their meetings by having the CFO review the numbers. That's normal, but I don't do that. I start every meeting by having one of my top executives tell about last week's customer experience.

Recently I sent my most senior team to Turkey to experience what it's like to send money from a different part of the world.

The most famous customer in this company is my father. He lives in Turkey. Every time I send him money, I ask him to go to a different location to pick it up. He's a 90-year-old guy and he is my best mystery shopper.

So how do you know that the learning function is succeeding--are there any particular metrics you evaluate?

I'm a metrics-driven person. Before I joined Western Union, I studied at GE with Jack Welch. I've also had Six Sigma training, so I'm very metrics-focused. These initiatives we've implemented to change the company must have a financial impact. They must drive shareholder value.

Our organization is structured around business lines and growth enablers. I tell HR, which is a growth enabler, "You are going to be measured just like any of the business lines. One of my key concerns is top-line growth, so your training and development focus needs to be on revenue generation."

The changes to our company also have been implemented in our scorecards for all 9,000 of our employees. Targets and bonuses are determined by whether the changes we need are happening or not. It's hard to make a serious change without such metrics. You need metrics for every action that affects the change. …

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