Mike Reidenbach | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
The International Veteran
By Robert Green, Atlanta Trend
Mike Reidenbach’s international experience goes far beyond that of most businessmen in Atlanta, both in terms of the number of countries he has visited and his reasons for being there. The former Air Force officer has seen the world in peace and war and is, uniquely, a veteran of both global business expansion as well as global conflict.
Born and raised in New York, where he attended St. Jude’s Elementary School and Catholic Central High School, Mike was always interested in information technology. He was a fast advocate of the earliest computers, which he experimented with both in and out of school, and decided that he would only go to a college with a great computer science program. “The colleges that fit my criteria were the service academies, MIT and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But RPI was in my hometown of Troy and I wanted to move,” he said. Mike was accepted to the United States Air Force Academy and arrived at the Colorado campus in June of 1980. In his first days there, he received word that he had been granted a full four year scholarship to MIT. “It was great news,” said Mike, “but I had already gotten the buzz cut and made a start, so I decided to stay.”
Like most people who have attended one of the service academies, Mike remembers it as both a challenging and rewarding experience. “The first year was really difficult,” he said. “The fourth-class (freshman) cadets are known as “doolies,” which comes from the Greek word for slave.” Additionally, cadets are evaluated not just on academics, but also on military achievement and participation in sports. “You are evaluated on all three equally and you can flunk out for failure to perform in any one of the categories. That’s why the first year failure rate can be as high as 30%. It was the hardest four years of my life, but I would gladly do it again,” he said.
Mike graduated in 1984 with a BS in Computer Science and began a flying career which would take him to all 50 states and 84 countries before he reached his 30th birthday. His experiences abroad gave him an appreciation of the differences in various world cultures as well as valuable experience in learning to find the similarities so as to “get the job done” with courtesy and respect. He had learned to fly T-37Bs and T-38As (both two-seat, twin-engine jets) during Undergraduate Pilot Training, and was selected to remain on as an Instructor Pilot to teach pilot training to others at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. He also learned to fly the KC-135R Stratotanker, a large aerial refueling aircraft, which he thought would be great experience for the airline pilot career that he expected to pursue later. While stationed in Georgia, Mike earned a Masters degree in Computer Science as well as an MBA in Finance from Georgia College. When the Gulf War started in January 1991, Mike had been an officer in the Air Force for over six years.
During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Mike flew the massive KC-135R aerial refueling tankers out of Cairo, Muskat, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was difficult and precise work. “You’re flying up to 500 miles per hour with another plane 30 inches away from you and a huge load of aircraft fuel in the tank. Of course you have to be careful - but you do get used to it,” he said. Refueling larger aircraft like B-52s caused additional problems. “When the larger planes were being refueled in mid-air, it caused a ‘bow wave of air’ that had to be anticipated and adjusted for.” War time service is not just another day in the office and Mike was compiling a year and a half of typical flying time every month – which meant that he barely had time to rest. “It sounds like a lot,” Mike said, “but a lot of guys had it worse.”
From his service in the war, Mike has two interesting observations, one high tech and one low tech:
High tech: “The biggest threat we faced was having a mid-air collision with another of our own planes, since there were so many in the air at any one time. People watching on CNN said that it looked like a video game and in some ways they were right. There were up to a thousand planes or more in the air at any one time in a relatively small space. The level of complexity that entails is huge. There is no way the effort could have been coordinated without computers to calculate the airspeeds, trajectories and locations. High tech was essential.”
Low tech: “At the start, during Desert Shield, we had designated all tanker aircraft as oil companies (‘Exxon 14’, ‘Mobil 36’, …) and all fighter jets as fish (‘Pike 19’, ‘Bass 42’, …). We knew that the Iraqi’s were listening. On the first day of the war, we switched call signs. The Iraqi Air Force sent up a flight of MIG 21s to intercept what they thought were American tankers. Instead, F-15 fighters met them and the MIGs were shot down. They immediately sent the rest of their Air Force to Iran where they stayed for the remainder of the war. So low tech works in the right circumstances.”
After the war, Mike was offered the rank of Major but turned it down and resigned his commission so that he could begin what he thought would be a career as an airline pilot for Delta. But it turned out that Delta was starting to furlough pilots at that time instead of hiring and Mike began to consider other options. A cousin worked for payment processor NDC in Atlanta and suggested that he apply there. Mike began work as a Project Manager and by the time Delta started hiring pilots again, he was no longer interested.
Mike started work at NDC by being placed in charge of the most visible project that the company had – MasterCard/Visa compliance. Compliance with credit card association rules is very important for a credit card processor. The compliance rule changeover the year before Mike joined NDC had not gone well. Consequently, when Mike was placed in charge of the 1993 changeover, his work was closely watched. The company CEO was in his office on a relatively frequent basis. But he managed everything smoothly and for the next seven years Mike was in charge of whatever was the most important project or initiative NDC was engaged in. Starting in 2000, Mike was given operational control of various departments – systems operations, call centers, networks, Quality Assurance, and other duties – until he officially became CIO of the company in 2005.
Meanwhile, Global Payments had spun out of NDC in 2000, carrying revenue of about $280 million, and began an amazing growth spurt focused on worldwide acquisition. “We almost always bought from a bank local to the market,” said Mike, “and we always kept management in place when we could. The other important thing we did was to go in quickly to meet with our new employees to let them know how important they were to the success of the company. We made it a point to always treat them well.” The strategy was successful and by 2010, Global Payments’ revenue had grown to more than $1.8 Billion. Mike nevertheless focuses on the learning opportunities presented by that achievement – “ early on we dramatically underestimated the complexity of running a global operation. The challenge was the week-to-week management across 15 to 20 time zones just to keep things running well and in sync with the entire organization. We learned that we had to get the right people in the right positions at all of the locations and then trust them.”
Though still young, Mike decided to retire in 2010. He had been extremely successful at Global Payments and from the financial point of view, work had become optional. “I really had decided to retire,” Mike says, “but friends and other people I respected kept asking me for help with various projects and I didn’t feel that I could say no.” Mike began assisting startup companies with technology and private equity firms with due diligence. Most of these efforts related to payment processing, but not all. He was eventually doing so much work that he finally formed his own company, Greenbush Consulting, as an umbrella for it all.
From this consulting work, Mike was asked to help a company called EVO Merchant Services – the largest merchant acquirer in private hands in the world – to help them form a strategy for becoming a global player. EVO, based in New York, processes for more than 200,000 merchants in the US and Canada. He did this work for a year and then accepted the position of CIO of the company in June of 2012. EVO set up an office in Atlanta in early 2012 with the intention of focusing on international growth.
EVO’s global expansion process has already started. “We reached an agreement to buy 100% of Deutsche Card Services in Germany from Deutsche Bank in late November, “ Mike said. Based in Cologne and Frankfurt, the organization operates in 39 European markets and will serve as a platform for further pan-European expansion. The agreement also contains a long-term strategic relationship with Deutsche Bank for joint marketing of card acquiring services in Europe. “We will also be looking to expand into other parts of Europe as well as Asia and South America,” said Mike.
If it is true that confidence means ‘having done it before,’ then Mike should be extremely confident. “We have the right backing and the right leadership. Our Chairman is Ray Sidhom, and our CEO is Jim Kelly,” said Mike. James Kelly served as CFO, COO and President of Global Payments at the time of Mike’s tenure at the company during its march from $280 million to $1.8 billion in revenue from 2000 to 2010.
While Mike has certainly thrived in managing people from highly different backgrounds across many time zones – and is certainly experienced in adjusting for cultural differences – his true success seems to come from adherence to a few basic principles entailed below
-“Don’t micromanage – micromanagers lack self-confidence.”
-“Ambiguity is not our friend. Define and show employees where the lines are and then let them work within those lines.”
-This is from the Academy. “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want done and then let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Applying his management principles fairly to all would seem to be a formula for success in any part of the world. It has certainly worked for Mike Reidenbach.
Mike is a member of the Chadwick Martin Bailey Technology Panel and the Project Management Institute, and he sits on the Board of the Technology Association of Georgia and on the Board of Advisors to the Association of Telecommunication Professionals. Mike is also on the Board of the FinTech Society of TAG and serves as a Board Member of Global Knowledge, an IT training company based in Cary, North Carolina. Mike has previously served as a member of the PCI Council Board of Advisors and the Payment Processors Information Sharing Council (PPISC), an organization that is part of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
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