Curiosity may not be the best approach for a cat, but Christine Larsen finds it to be a lifesaver in her role as executive vice president and chief operations officer for First Data.

"I have always been a very curious person," said Larsen, one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honorees. "In my job you have to take what appears to be negative or adversarial and dig into what is going on."

Combining that natural drive with a keen ear for listening to clients always helps obtain all of the essential facts needed to solve an issue in a business situation, Larsen said.

Christine Larsen, Executive Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, First Data
Christine Larsen, Executive Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, First Data

Since coming to First Data nearly four years ago, the company has essentially transformed from a payment processor to a technology innovator. In that time, listening and asking a lot of questions are skills that have served Larsen well.

Larsen was part of the management team that took First Data through its initial public offering in October of 2015, helping establish an infusion of new equity into the company.

"I am very proud to be a part of an incredible team that is dedicated to constant improvement for its clients, partners, investors and employees," said Larsen, who calls a commemorative baseball bat from First Data's IPO "the most valuable thing on my desk" because it represents the $2.8 billion that was raised during the IPO and company's ongoing transformation.

"The IPO was a terrific milestone on our journey and the bat is a constant reminder of the work we are doing and what we have already accomplished," Larsen added.

She says it is an exciting time to be in the payments industry because of the many technological concepts being formulated. But there is such a thing as too much excitement.

"What frustrates me the most is there isn't enough time in the day to act on all of the fabulous ideas that could be implemented for our clients in the industry," Larsen said. "Of course, we prioritize and get to the biggest ones first, but there is so much to evaluate and keep track of, and so many great ideas coming to fruition."

Larsen oversees 13,000 employees in her roles as the leader of the company's global operations, heading an initiative to re-engineer the company's systems and processes to better serve clients.

Prior to joining First Data's executive team, Larsen was executive vice president at JPMorgan Chase, and also worked as chief operations officer for Treasury and Securities for Chase.

She also had multiple leadership roles during her time with Citigroup in both investment banking and global transaction services.

Larsen currently serves on the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and also extends her expertise to the education field as a member of the Syracuse University board and Manhattan Community College foundation board.

"I think about education and its role all of the time," Larsen said. "It's in all of our best interests to live in a society that prioritizes making higher education possible for all, and each of us who have the benefits of a higher education need to pay it forward."

In that sense, Larsen put that philosophy to work in founding the First Data Women's Leadership Council to provide educational and business sponsored programs to help women succeed.

CONTINUE READING: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN PAYMENTS, 2017