Many companies in the payments industry have strong, influential women as top executives. These women rarely had a clear path ahead of them when they started out.

Each woman's experiences offer valuable — and sometimes counterintuitive — lessons. Executives from financial services companies such as American Express and Fifth Third Bank, as well as from technology companies such as Fiserv and MagTek, shared their advice at PaymentsSource's recent Card Forum event in Boca Raton, Fla.

1. 'Anything the Boys Could Do, the Girls Could Do Too'
"My father was the one that taught me how to drive a nail, taught me how to drill, taught me how to shoot a gun. Anything the boys could do, the girls could do too," says Annmarie "Mimi" Hart, president and CEO of MagTek, a technology vendor. "He was the first one that actually said, 'You don't have a lot of limits.'"

2. Take Big Risks
"When I first joined American Express, I think I'd been there less than six months where I was talking to the board of directors about this new product that we had envisioned with Walmart, called Bluebird," says Laura Kelly of her time at Amex. "I was thinking … 'This could be a big career-limiting move. I've been here six months. If this fails, my career is over.'"

Bluebird was an immediate success, with over half a million cards issued in the first three months. Hear Laura Kelly's story in her own words:

3. Build Your Network Online
"What I found most enriching … was really being able to meet and have a dialogue with individuals outside of the industry I was in," says Janet Estep, CEO of NACHA, the electronic payments association.

Social networking sites can be crucial to maintaining these connections, Kelly adds. "You can actually pretty easily send emails through LinkedIn … if you don't know their contact information."

4. Always Introduce Yourself
"If someone says hi to you, respond. Talk to them. Introduce yourself," says Ginger Schmeltzer, senior vice president of emerging payments at Fiserv Inc.

On an airplane, Ginger Schmeltzer struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to her. They exchanged cards, and the next day his company called to discuss job opportunities. It didn't work out, but the experience stuck with her. "It would never have occurred to me that I'd sit next to somebody who could hire me for a job."

5. You Don't Need to Finish What You Started
"There are so many kids, I think, driven by graduate schools and 'I have this degree in finance' and 'I'm going to be an investment banker' and 'This is my life' — you don't have to do that," says Linda Perry, a consultant and former Visa Inc. executive. Especially at the start of your career, it is crucial to pursue new opportunities as they arise.

Ginger Schmeltzer took this philosophy to heart. She had "four jobs in five years" before entering a payments consulting role — which she left for a year and a half. "I spent six months working as a dive instructor in the Caribbean. I spent six months studying Chinese in Beijing," Schmeltzer says. She eventually returned, reinvigorated, to the career she left.

6. Don't Wait for Perfection
Take risks even if you think it's a stretch based on your experience, says Kim Fitzsimmons, CEO of Cynergy Data. "So many times, I think women feel like we have to be perfect before we can do it. We're not, and neither are they. Nobody's perfect."

7. Just Do It
"We just went out and got it," says Julie Joseforsky, a senior vice president at Fifth Third Bank, of how she and her peers achieved success. "It was a 'just do it' mentality …. none of us have ever really been reserved about going after what we really wanted."

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