Nacha's Janet Estep has just finished one of the biggest weeks of the year for the association—one that included heavy advocacy for automated clearing house payments at Nacha's Payments 2013 conference.

As president and CEO of Nacha, the electronic payments association, Estep is at the center of quite a storm. The executives at the conference are anxious about the future—the event's star speaker, Moven founder Brett King, likened incumbent payments companies to the ill-fated Pony Express. It's Nacha's role to sell ACH as way for companies to survive this challenging environment.

Nacha also launched a number of new initiatives last week, but new technology is just part of the story. Estep's been here before—her entire career is about adapting quickly to new challenges.

"The best capability you can nurture is your ability to learn to learn…I've based that on my liberal arts college background," Estep says. "You're always absorbing information and if you are flexible you can come up with adaptable skills."

Estep, who's a graduate of St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has used her liberal arts education to develop a focus on learning and flexibility to quickly add new skills. That experience has helped her career as it progressed deeper into payments and financial services. This year, PaymentsSource named Estep one of the Most Influential Women in Payments.

VIDEO: Estep's peers share their advice for a successful career

Estep says her managerial and organizational skills helped her transition from a job as general manager of sales and marketing for a Twin Cities-based environmental lab to a role at U.S. Bancorp. The bank hired her to work on its merchant acquiring division, even though Estep knew little about merchant acquiring at the time.

"U.S. Bank gave me a chance to make the transition, and they understood what they wanted in terms of a general skill set to manage and run that division and they placed good people around me," says Estep. At U.S. Bank, she was responsible for the institution's transaction services division.

Even when leaving U.S. Bank to join Nacha in 2008, Estep found she had to be flexible enough to learn new skills.

"I wasn't experienced in ACH," she says. "I had experience with other electronic payments, but at Nacha I've gotten to lean about a new industry and product—that was an important stepping stone."

Mentorship is also an important part of learning, says Estep. She has worked with Menttium, which pairs up people from different organizations and even industries. "It's a sounding board and offers open feedback from people with different experiences," says Estep.

Other executives at Nacha's event said mentorship is a vital part of managing change in business and in a career. 

"I've always had good mentors," says Jennifer Schulz, head of global ecommerce at Visa. Schulz was also named one of the year's Most Influential Women in Payments.

Schulz's mentors include her parents and her professional colleagues. The University of Michigan graduate has held a number of positions at Visa, and has also served as chief executive officer of Vantiv. "We have a good group of passionate people here at Visa, and that's been helpful," she says.

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