Susan Chapman-Hughes, American Express

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To hear Susan Chapman-Hughes tell it, one might think she came into each of her leadership roles at American Express like a hurricane. And she's glad someone called her on it.

"I have a big personality and am very extroverted," said Chapman-Hughes, the executive vice president of global digital operations at Amex. "As a result, my messages aren't always received by other people in the way that I want them to be received."

A mentor once told her to simply be more aware of how people were taking in her message "by watching both their verbal and non-verbal clues," she said. "That's become a powerful tool in helping me to manage what I want and need from my team."

Read more: The Most Influential Women in Payments, 2020

Chapman-Hughes, one of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments for 2020, earned enough respect and teamwork from others in her nine years with Amex to hold down senior vice president roles in U.S. large market and global real estate prior to her current role of the past two years.

"I started at American Express in global real estate, but my goal was to lead a [profit and loss], which I had never done before, so it was a big risk," she said. "But I knew that I was capable of doing it."

When the opportunity to manage the P&L for the U.S. large market segment came along, Chapman-Hughes jumped at the chance. She transformed what had been a declining market into a profitable segment for Amex.

"It was hard, but it paid off for me and I was able to achieve another goal that I had set for myself," she said.

Susan Chapman-Hughes, Executive Vice President, Global Digital Capabilities, Transformations and Operations, American Express
Susan Chapman-Hughes, Executive Vice President, Global Digital Capabilities, Transformations and Operations, American Express

With that sort of experience, Chapman-Hughes was in a good spot to take on the challenges the payments industry is certain to throw at her.

"As the digital-first generation hits its prime spending years, payments will become mostly mobile," she said. "Companies that don't have a frictionless payments experience will likely become irrelevant, as customers won't want to enter their account information or use any sort of paper."

It will be digital invoicing for most businesses, with paper checks and cash likely becoming a thing of the past, Chapman-Hughes added.

"There are a lot of mergers and acquisitions in the marketplace where older, established payments companies are partnering with fintechs to put digital payments at the forefront," she said.

Chapman-Hughes expects to see more women in leadership roles as the payments industry's transformation unfolds. Yet, she fears that the lack of support from others can hold women back from top jobs.

"We just need a chance," she said. "So, for all of the people who are in positions of power, we need you to sponsor and create opportunities for women."

But women also need to advocate for themselves, she added.

"The research shows that women are less likely to negotiate their salary, at only 7%, and will only apply for a job when they are 100% certain they qualify for it," she said. "Men, on the other hand, will negotiate 57% of the time, and will apply for a job even if they meet only 60% of the qualifications."

Chapman-Hughes graduated from Vanderbilt with a bachelor of science in engineering, and earned two master's degrees — one in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and one in real estate and urban land economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In 2013, Fast Company tabbed her as one of the 100 most creative people in business.

Through it all, she has held tight to a value she wants her work team to also embrace. A few years ago, she was one of the few senior leaders at Amex to have a baby. She took her full maternity leave time.

"I encourage all new parents on my team, of any gender, to do the same," she said. "As a senior leader, I know I am setting the culture of my team. If I don't take a leave if and when it is needed, I am demonstrating to my organization that I value work over family — and that's not the truth."

Chapman-Hughes said she loves her job, "but my family always comes first."

And it is not difficult to manage that type of commitment to family and work if you have hired team members "that you have complete faith in," she added. "I knew when I took my leave that my team would take care of me, and when my team needs to take leave, I take care of them."

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