To Build a Successful Business, Leaders Must Continually Peer Around Corners: With Payoneer CEO, Scott Galit
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“You have to anticipate how the world is evolving and how it may affect you and your team in the future. It’s not enough to prepare for the best-case, or even most likely scenario; planning for alternative outcomes and having an organization that recognizes that change is a constant is crucial.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Galit, CEO of Payoneer.
Thank you for doing this with us. What is your backstory?
Before serving as the CEO of Payoneer, I ran a global business at MasterCard. Earlier in my career, I was an investment banker working on Internet IPOs like Ebay and it was there that I got my first exposure to fintech and the amazing transformational effects of the internet on commerce. The experience helped shed light for me on just how impactful the internet would be, and all of the ways in which it would change how the world works.
I appreciated having had the opportunity there to discover new business models, starting with eBay. eBay’s business was remarkable to me, as they single handedly proved that an online marketplace could create a cycle where buyers and sellers connected with each other, and enable more people to participate in commerce in more ways than were possible before.
Shortly after working on the eBay IPO, I left banking and started a fintech company that focused on payments and the internet. Ever since then, I have been involved in the financial services industry with a particular focus on how technology is changing the world of commerce and creating new financial services needs.
Around 2005, when I was running a global business at MasterCard, I met a really creative entrepreneur named Yuval Tal. At that point in time, Yuval had recently founded a company called Payoneer. As soon as I got to know Yuval and better understand Payoneer’s business plan, it became clear to me that it was focused on really interesting, exciting future trends. They recognized the increasing globalization of the digital economy, and the fact that traditional banking infrastructure was not meeting these modern business needs.
I could see how Payoneer’s technology and the internet were enabling small businesses to compete on the same level as large multinationals, and how the company’s leaders were recognizing the growing role of emerging markets, and the need for increased connectivity to the rest of the world. The electronification of commerce was making all of this necessary, and the electronification of cross-border payments by Payoneer was making all of this easier, and empowering the growing global-mobile workforce. All of these revolutionary trends that still continue to change the way the world works were encompassed within this little company’s business.
Payoneer was founded based on the notion that there are always going to be new platforms, that the internet will continue to make new business models possible, and that there is a need and an opportunity to create a multi-currency global business to support new digital businesses, making it easier for them to operate globally.
If you could share the funniest or most interesting story since becoming the CEO of Payoneer what would it be?
Our team had this trip to Bangladesh, where we were both launching a partnership and hosting a big event. Before we went, we were reminded of the challenges of working in emerging markets because the US State Department had just declared that Americans shouldn’t travel there. At that point, there were buses being bombed in Dhaka by warring political factions — it wasn’t really safe, but we were determined.
We were hosting an event with the head of the Central Bank and over 200 dignitaries that were coming for the launch of our product. I remember being in India on the phone with the state department in Bangladesh about whether it was safe to go and how we should manage the trip. We were set to do whatever we needed to make it there.
After switching some accommodations at the suggestion of the state department, we ended up going and, thankfully, everything worked out seamlessly. We were able to hold this amazing event and listen to the Head of the Central Bank talk about his plans to liberalize the economy through economic reforms — truly fascinating. I then went up and spoke about how Payoneer was working to empower small businesses in Bangladesh by making it easier for them to become exporters and grow globally. Following that event, we hosted another event that ended up being standing room only — hundreds of people lined up to learn how to grow their business. It was incredible to be part of this, and see the motivation of the local community.
So what exactly does your company do?
We view our role as enabling businesses of any size, anywhere in the world to become global by eliminating all of the challenges and friction around their cross-border transactions. Payoneer’s technology makes it easier for businesses of all sizes to transact and trade with new partners around the world.
Payoneer works with millions of entrepreneurs and small businesses from 200 countries, making it easier for them to get paid by international customers, and pay their suppliers, regardless of where they are. Beyond that, we are now starting to help them access the working capital they need to run their business.
We also work with large digital platforms such as Airbnb, Amazon, Google and Upwork. These companies have become new global commerce intermediaries, bringing supply and demand together, and they have many challenges moving money around the world.
We view ourselves as a partner in growth for any business that is trying to grow globally. We’re there to help them grow faster and in more places by reducing a lot of the friction that usually gets in the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
There are smart, hard-working, resourceful entrepreneurs all over the world that are trying to create economic opportunities and they need help. They need partners, they need support. We see our role as empowering those individuals and businesses around the world to achieve their potential. By providing them with the tools they need, we enable them to fulfill the promise they have, and to capitalize on the opportunities that are out there. That is our purpose, and it’s the most important thing I think about every day.
Our mission to empower entrepreneurs brings us to emerging markets around the world. It brings us to sole proprietors, and multinational companies. It brings us to women who are finding opportunities outside their home markets that allow them to succeed because of their talent and resourcefulness, and to overcome domestic or cultural constraints. We see ourselves as a partner for these smart, hardworking individuals and entrepreneurs around the world. As they grow, they hire more people, they achieve more success, and they create more opportunities for others.
What are your “Five things I wish someone told me before I became CEO,” and why?
- Democratize success, privatize failure. My job is to ensure everyone feels they are part of our success, but part of my job is also to shoulder the responsibility for any big failure. I routinely remind our team that I make mistakes all the time and that when I do make a mistake, the consequences are typically bigger than mistakes they will make.
- Make it bigger than yourself. Being a leader is about establishing a mission and a shared purpose. If you can get people to understand the “why” of what you’re doing, you’ll have a motivated, cohesive team that works together, rather than being driven by individual goals.
- It’s a big world out there. It’s really easy to focus on what’s closer to you and a lot harder look out at the entire world. It’s hard to grasp the scale of it all until you start to go to new places and realize that there are billions of people that approach the world in ways that are completely different than us. Today’s business leaders have to think globally — even businesses that are purely domestic will face international competition.
- Peer around corners. Leaders have a relentless need to look several steps ahead, and today change is happening faster than ever. You have to anticipate how the world is evolving and how it may affect you and your team in the future. It’s not enough to prepare for the best-case, or even most likely scenario; planning for alternative outcomes and having an organization that recognizes that change is a constant is crucial.
- Grow from visionary, to lead doer, to Communicator-in-Chief. This is one way of describing the evolution from a small company, to a growing company, to a much larger business. The demands of the leadership role and the priorities of that role will shift and change and you will have to rethink what you need to do, as well as what you’re best suited to do. As a business grows, you have to grow and evolve also.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Simone Biles — partially because my daughter is a gymnast, but also because she is just an incredibly powerful young woman who has really accomplished things that no one has before. I think she sets a great example for young women. In that same vein, I would love to meet Malala Yousafzai. She is an amazing example of the power of young people, the power of women, and the power of a single young woman in a place where she wasn’t treated as an equal.