For Walmart's Kara Kazazean, the sound of success is very much like that of a clarinet.

"While it is a skill completely removed from the payments industry, the fact that I can play the clarinet is a skill with a tremendous impact on my career," said Kazazean, one of PaymentsSource's 2017 Most Influential Women in Payments honorees.

In high school, Kazazean joined the marching band and competed to be a leader for the clarinet section. As part of the selection process, aspiring section leaders participated in a rigorous leadership training program.

Kara Kazazean, Director of Payment Services, Walmart
Kara Kazazean, Director of Payment Services, Walmart

"This was my first exposure to servant leadership, and the concept that leaders don’t win unless those around them are successful," said Kazazean, who has been at Walmart for six years.

Kazazean has carried those clarinet leadership skills to her payments career.

"The early leadership lessons also put me in situations that developed my ability to be agile and adaptable to changing priorities — a necessity in our ever evolving industry," she said.

It has all given her a better understanding of "servant leadership" and how to lead in situations where a leader has accountability, but not formal authority, in today's "matrixed organizations," she added.

After joining Walmart in 2011 and serving as the company's global gift card manager for two years, Kazazean took on her current role at a time when EMV was approaching and mobile wallets were joining the payments landscape. She has spent the last year involved in helping the retailer develop its Walmart Pay mobile app, the first in what figures to be more moves into omnichannel offerings for Walmart customers.

Prior to joining Walmart, Kazazean deployed point of sale devices for Radiant Systems, which is now a part of NCR. She also spent eight years at RaceTrac Petroleum, leading the company's electronic payments team and overseeing its Triple-DES ATM upgrades.

Through it all, the music of a clarinet creates the proper backdrop and motivates Kazazean to support business education that promotes understanding and inclusion.

"Reinforcing the importance of learning also serves as a reminder to help educate and inform the teams we work with," Kazazean said. "The more knowledge our teams have — not only the technical workings of payment transactions, but also understanding the logic behind the decisions that are made — empowers them to make even better judgments and drive results for our customers and business."

She points to one of Walmart's core values of "Respect for the Individual" as a vital part of the company's strategy of supporting executives who lead by example and listen to colleagues and employees.

"Looking back at the last 12 months and the dialogue happening across our country, there have been countless situations where people have chosen not to listen to other’s opinions, especially when they are different from their own," she said. "I fear that we ended the year even more divided than where we began.

"Having a respectful dialogue about these differences can create valuable contributions, or even help those involved better understand and articulate opinions," Kazazean added. "We face great opportunities and challenges within our communities and companies. Fostering a culture of inclusion where individual voices are heard and respected will be imperative as we move forward to face the future together."