Melissa Smith, WEX
Over five years as CEO of WEX, Melissa Smith has led the international corporate payments company through several quarters of growth through organic expansion and acquisitions. One of her signature moves is the artful use of partnerships to extend WEX’s payments technology in the fuel card, health care and travel sectors.
“To accommodate the fast-paced nature of the payments industry, larger companies are shifting to a model with greater emphasis on partnership or co-investment,” Smith said.
The latest examples include GasBuddy, which helps drivers find the nearest, lowest-priced gas; OnDeck, which provides funding to small businesses to gain quick access to new services; and a global partnership with Chevron.
In many cases, partnerships can help a company gain market advantages with less direct risk, she suggested.
“Businesses that have historically been competitors are finding ways of collaborating, which is inspiring,” said Smith, who moved up the ranks over 21 years at WEX, from the planning department to controller, CFO and president before becoming the top executive.
Smith, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019, is known for her bold visions and a willingness to break the mold. Fresh in her role as CEO in 2014, Smith seamlessly balanced a new role as a first-time mother, setting a solid precedent for company whose executive team is 50 percent women.
At WEX, Smith said women have an equal opportunity to succeed, and she wants to see that spread across the payments industry.
“Without a significant number of women in a fintech department, your staff will be operating in an echo chamber with limited innovative thinking. Companies need to build a workplace community for women and create an environment of active mentorship, so women can feel empowered to share their ideas and have a voice at the fintech table,” Smith said.
The unique skills and problem-solving abilities of women are increasingly coming into play in the payments industry, as technology forces rapid changes on traditional models, Smith said.
“Women are agile and have the ability to see big-picture, complex situations clearly. A good manager will be able to leverage the strengths of both women and men in their fintech departments to deliver fresh ideas,” she said.
Reflecting on recent developments, Smith sees positives from the tailwinds of #MeToo, with the largest number of women elected into politics in 2018 in any U.S. cycle.
“We are on the verge of significant change in the way women experience their professional lives. To think that the next generation of women, our daughters, could really show up to work and be treated from day one as equal, is moving from a dream to a place of reality,” Smith said.
Smith gets inspiration from other payments industry executives that think creatively, including Dan Schulman, PayPal’s CEO.
“PayPal has done a tremendous job at keeping up with the fast-moving pace of payments through strategic acquisitions such as buying Venmo’s parent Braintree in 2015,” said Smith, noting she also admired how PayPal advanced $25 million to fund federal workers’ payrolls during the recent government shutdown.
Companies where all workers feel a sense of community, flexibility and intellectual challenge are magnets for talent, Smith said. “Employees want to feel like they’re part of something.”