You can't influence an industry without influencing the people in it. Take the case of Kim Fitzsimmons.

She's had a remarkable run — first woman CEO of a major acquiring company, current president of the Electronic Transactions Association, immediate past president of Women Networking in Electronic Transactions and recipient of the Midwest Acquirers Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her efforts have had a lasting effect on the industry, as she was key in bringing together many players that were notoriously reluctant to work together. She sold supermarkets on the merits of plastic payment cards, convinced community banks to work with independent sales organizations, and talked tech companies into working with payments-industry associations instead of against them.

Frequently, people describe the "Kim Factor" that's touched so many in the industry.

That phrase captures the power Fitzsimmons wields with the force of her personality and describes the esteem so many have for her. It was coined by Carrie Rattle, chief marketing officer at Fitzsimmons' current company, Cynergy Data.

"Kim operates with integrity, leading by calm confidence while respecting and valuing everyone she touches," says Rattle. "She's almost a brand in the U.S. payments industry."

Fitzsimmons never loses sight of the big picture, according to her former boss, Ed Labry, CEO of First Data Corp.

"She has a long-term point of view, always focused on what's best for the customer and the company in the long run," Labry said in an email.

Up for the Challenge

She started her career fresh out of the University of Mississippi in the late '80s as a salesperson at Concord EFS.

Before long, Fitzsimmons was working closely with Ed Labry, her boss at Concord and later at First Data. At Concord, Labry painted strategy in broad strokes, and she put it into practice.

The two couldn't have been more different, a co-worker says, describing Fitzsimmons as "methodical and calm," while Labry "shoots from the hip in a calculated way."

At Concord, Fitzsimmons developed a team of telemarketers to convince merchants to try a new way to pay – PIN debit.

"It's narrowed down to a handful now, but at the time there were 30 or 40 regional networks we coordinated with to really push PIN-debit acceptance," Fitzsimmons recalls.

At the same time, Concord was working hard to sign up merchants that didn't accept credit cards.

To that end, Fitzsimmons called on supermarket executives who were working with 1% or 2% margins and convinced them – often with great difficulty – that they would increase their average ticket size by taking plastic cards.

Breaking into supermarkets also required Concord to figure out how to integrate card readers with point-of-sale registers. The owners didn't want an extra machine at checkout.

In addition, Concord blazed trails by forming partnerships with the grocers' associations and grocery wholesalers, winning their endorsements for card services. It's a model widely emulated.

Taken together, Fitzsimmons and her colleagues' pioneering work helped open supermarkets to card acceptance.

Concord also developed a community-bank program, forming partnerships that relieved smaller financial institutions of the need to deal with transaction services but kept the rest of their banking relationships intact with their merchants.

Working together benefitted Concord and the community banks, and it also addressed the objections merchants had raised about "leaving" their financial institutions to sign up for card services from Concord.

Fitzsimmons enjoyed her time at Concord, a company she describes as a "speedboat" that could change directions quickly when two or three managers saw an opportunity. It wasn't a "cruise ship" that lumbered along under the burden of bureaucracy.

Still, by 1996, Fitzsimmons was ready for new challenges. With Concord's blessings, she spun off an independent sales organization with a partner, John Hannaford.

Their ISO thrived, and late in 2002 Concord acquired it. Fitzsimmons agreed to come back to Concord to integrate the ISO's sales force with Concord' staff.

Combining the sales teams helped attract First Data Corp. as a suitor. First Data bought Concord a year or so after Fitzsimmons had returned, and she and Labry moved to the bigger company.

A Big Change

"I went from having my own schedule and not answering to too many people – other than my partner and everybody that worked for me – to now having to figure out how I was going to fit into First Data, the 800-pound gorilla," Fitzsimmons says.  "It was a personal challenge."

She spent a year integrating her well-oiled sales force of more than 400 reps with the First Data sales organization. Concord had relationships with community banks, oil jobbers and convenience stores, while First Data was working with big banks.

Fitzsimmons was getting ready to leave First Data, when Labry, who would eventually become First Data's CEO, asked her to stay. She hesitated, wondering if she could have enough impact on such a large company.

She decided to try, making it her goal to influence a much larger sales team much larger than she was used to working with. She feels she succeeded.

"First Data was now the place for ISOs to hang their shingle and make their home," Fitzsimmons says.

Life was good at First Data, and Fitzsimmons could have stayed on indefinitely. "I was never looking and perfectly content and happy to stay where I was," she says.

Taking the Helm

But new challenges beckoned. The phone was continually ringing as companies called with job offers, and she always listened. "My dad always taught me it's easier to find a job when you have a job," she says.

Then, a year ago in January, the right opportunity came along. That's when she joined Cynergy Data as CEO. "It was the right time and the right position," she declares.

"I wanted to roll up my sleeves and be at the helm of the speedboat as opposed to being on the cruise ship," she says, returning to her nautical metaphor. For her, Cynergy Data represented making a decision and running with it.

Cynergy Data had suffered through a bankruptcy and bad press, but it had a new owner and some good executives still on the roster.

In its heyday, Cynergy Data had been one of the premier super ISOs, and Fitzsimmons wanted to restore its image.

"I'm having fun," she says of her tenure at Cynergy Data. "I have no regrets about making the move, but I do miss my friends and family at First Data, though."

For Fitzsimmons, it's the first "selfish" decision she's made in her career – the first time she's put what she wanted to do above everything else.  "That was hard for me," she says.

Since arriving at Cynergy Data, she and her crew have been refining the sales culture and revamping service. They're standardizing the relationships with ISOs.

"There were a lot of one-off deals, which goes hand in hand with poor service," Fitzsimmons says. "Special deals are very difficult to manage on the service side."

While taking on formidable challenges on the job, Fitzsimmons has made time to "give back" through her work with industry organizations.

She decided to pursue extra-curricular activity based on advice she received about six years ago from Diane (Vogt) Faro, then a co-worker at First Data. Faro had helped start with Consultant Linda Perry and Attorney Holli Targan.

At Faro's urging, Fitzsimmons became active in, serving on the board and then becoming president.

"In my year as president in 2011, one of my objectives with was to double the membership, which we did, to well over 500 members today," she says.   

About the same time Fitzsimmons got involved in, Faro encouraged her to become active in the Electronic Transactions Association. Joe Kaplan, the association's president and the CEO of Total Merchant Services, asked Fitzsimmons to serve on the ETA advisory board.

She became an ETA board member the next year, and then found herself on a "fast track" up through the ranks of officers, skipping secretary to become treasurer, and then bypassing the organization's usual year as president-elect to move directly into the role of president.

Fitzsimmons recently concluded her first board meeting as president. She intends to continue the efforts of Eddie Myers, CEO of PayPros Inc., who just stepped down as president, and Jason Oxman, the ETA's new CEO, to "expand the tent" by recruiting new member companies, often from the ranks of tech firms now joining the acquiring industry.

Besides broadening the ETA's membership, Fitzsimmons wants to make sure that long-time members understand the organization is expanding. This will increase networking opportunities and help member companies keep up with the industry's growing complexity and the changes regulation can bring.

Under her leadership the ETA may become international, and planning is under way for a possible exhibition in Europe.

It's a long and still-growing list of achievements that the industry has acknowledged by choosing Fitzsimmons for the Midwest Acquirers Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

And having a few words to live by has helped make it all happen.

"You only come in this world with two things – your name and your word," Fitzsimmons says. "Those two things are very important to me." 

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