First data ceo shares his take on diversity, inclusion at uncw business week talk wilmingtonbiz the university of kansas basketball schedule

To build a foundation for success, companies must listen and learn from diverse voices. That was the primary message UNCW students heard wednesday from first data chairman and CEO frank bisignano.

Bisignano’s talk, titled “diversity and inclusion: building blocks for better business,” was wednesday’s keynote presentation during business week, the annual offering of university of north carolina wilmington’s cameron school of business.

Scheduled to appear in person as wednesday’s keynoter, bisignano was stranded in new jersey by the fourth nor’easter to hit the new york metro area this month, so university officials set up a video conferencing arrangement that allowed the speaker and his audience to see and talk to each other.

Bisignano’s talk was hosted by wilmington-based live oak bank, whose chair and CEO, james “chip” mahan served as emcee.Bisignano said live oak and first data work together closely and have launched a wilmington-based joint venture, apiture.

Before taking on his topic directly, bisignano painted what he called a “mosaic” of his early experiences. Growing up as an italian-american in brooklyn, new york, he was exposed to people from many cultures, and his mother, bisignano said, was inclusive in her approach to life before the term “inclusion” became a catchphrase.

He was also working in lower manhattan in 2001 when the attacks on the world trade center happened. The response to that tragedy showed him that in times of crisis, people rally around each other as fellow human beings.

When bisignano was suffering from throat cancer, he benefited from a similar collegial atmosphere among the many members of his care team. “everybody was committed to my recovery,” he said.First data “that mosaic I am painting before I get to ‘building blocks for better business’ – it’s building blocks for life.”

Bisignano’s standing-room-only audience might have expected to hear that game-changing technology was the essential building block for better businesses, since the CEO’s success in turning around a troubled first data was based on his vision for leveraging smart phone technology.

Instead, the CEO told his audience that one of the most important building blocks for any business is people, noting that when he took the helm at first data in 2013, the company was “very insular.” as he led a transformation of the 46-year-old company from the world’s largest traditional payment processor into a financial technology innovator, bisignano encouraged the formation of enterprise research groups within first data.Bisignano said now, the company has affinity groups that represent and research the financial transaction needs of all kinds of consumers, from LGBT and military populations to ethnic communities.

“everything we do is all about bringing more to the client,” he said, noting that first data systems power payment transactions worldwide at the rate of more than 3,000 every second. “we are a purpose-driven company. We help our clients grow their businesses.”

Of its reported annual revenues of more than $11 billion, $1.7 billion comes from business outside the U.S., bisignano said. And that makes building blocks of inclusion and diversity even more important.

The first data CEO emphasized that diversity and inclusion takes many forms, including young hires learning from older employees who have decades of experience to share, and people of different backgrounds sharing perspectives with each other.Bisignano said

“it starts with the team, and respect [for the team members] sits above all,” he said. “future leaders have to understand [it’s essential] to include everybody. Create the ability for everybody to win.”

Bisignano related his experience as a college undergraduate in kansas to make another point. Coming from a big city in the northeast to a midwestern campus, he said, “taught me what it meant to be different. It’s not only about accepting others; it’s getting them to accept me.”

“do things that are uncomfortable for you. Try something that is not in your wheelhouse,” he said. A business leader, he added, has to have “a strong belief in supporting your people and understanding what they are going through.”