Christine Larsen's job is largely about helping businesses manage risk, though a dose of risk can be helpful to advancing one's career.

"Women are excellent risk takers. We navigate change very well. But we haven't been recognized for that," said Larsen, executive vice president and chief operations officer at First Data.

Larsen led the formation of the Women's Leadership Council at First Data in 2014. The council includes more than 40 female leaders from throughout the company who work to attract, retain, develop and promote the best women leaders to drive transformation at the company.

"I encourage my female colleagues to have the confidence to step out and, in a very dynamic industry, know they have a significant role to play," said Larsen, who has held her current role for about a year and a half. "Many of our clients are women, too, and there's a significant opportunity for females to change the face of this business.  I took a hell of a risk when I left the security of a banking job to come to First Data…and I couldn't be happier."

At First Data, Larsen spent much of the past year focused on internal matters, such as organizational issues and the company's $3.5 billion private placement.

As the company's technology-driven diversification strategy starts to accelerate, Larsen is turning her focus to external strategy.

"I think all of the change that's coming in the industry this year around security and tokenization will generate a lot of movement for both small and large clients as they look to ensure payments can be transacted in fundamentally more secure way" Larsen said. "EMV coming to the U.S. is, of course, driving much of that conversation."

The company is also building its network capabilities through First Data's STAR Network, offering more flexible debit solutions for both merchants and banks, she said. "And…international growth opportunities will remain important in the coming year."

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