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Leadership Lessons David Cooper
Inside WEX

Leadership Lessons with Dave Cooper

October 17, 2017

Connecting WEXers with senior leadership is a priority for us, and one of the ways we accomplish that goal is through Leadership Lessons. Our Chief Technology Officer Dave Cooper recently hosted one of these sessions in which he shared an overview of his responsibilities as CTO, how he empowers his team, and his perspective on the career path that brought him to WEX last year. His conversation was held with WEXers at our Maine technology hub, as well as with people throughout the organization via WebEx, and below we share some of his comments.

Responsibilities and Strategic Initiatives

Cooper notes that his days are generally governed by the 4-Ps: projects, people, problems and planning. For projects, he’s doing “run-of-the-mill” check-ins on what’s going on with multiple projects being handled by his teams. On the people side of things, he’s often holding one-on-ones with team members. His open door policy encourages WEXers to drop in and talk to him about everything from new ideas and project issues to what’s happening in life outside of the office.

Problem resolution is something that Cooper feels is most effectively dealt with by clear and immediate communication across the organization. “No one likes to be surprised, but you do want to make sure people are aware of the problem, what the options are, and what adjustments need to be made,” he advised. “What’s worked well for me at the senior level has been to provide three options for resolving a problem, give the pros and cons of each, and give your recommendation so the CEO can make an informed choice.”

Cooper’s planning is built upon five strategic planks that govern the overall direction for technology. We rely on our technology solutions and processes to provide a competitive advantage for WEX in multiple global markets, and this strategy informs almost every aspect of our approach. As summarized by Cooper, this 5-year strategy has elements that impact every facet of our technology operations.

Stability: Making sure that all of WEX’s technology systems work well includes everything from migrating existing systems to the cloud to identifying and remediating risks as they arise.

Delivery: Shortening delivery cycles allows the organization to be quicker to market, with tools in place to support metrics around consistency across all our lines of business.

Simplicity: Simplifying the systems that run our platforms is a big and complex aspect of our business, especially when you add the technology from acquired companies into the mix.

People: Developing the talent needed to staff our tech teams for the future, along with elevating the role of IT within the organization, fuels our IT engine for innovation and growth.

Efficiency: Cooper noted that if the company is good at the first four strategies, they will drive efficiencies and substantial cost savings for the organization.

“All of these strategies represent complex initiatives, and each is very challenging on its own, much less all of them together,” observed Cooper. “That’s what I like about my role as CTO, taking very complex tasks and working to get them executed as quickly as possible. The energy and enthusiasm that comes with that process are just amazing here.”

Empowering Teams

Technology at WEX focuses on being transformational, and looks to employ new technologies and move faster in solution delivery. When it comes to our IT team, Cooper says he’s looking for people who are willing to step up, learn new things and change how they work. In addition to specific technical skills, he looks for smart people who are energetic and enthusiastic about what they do. In fact, he says that candidates who have those characteristics, but haven’t quite done the job before, are often his top pick.

With those kinds of qualities at work in his team members, Cooper says his role is to make sure that they are skilled enough, staffed enough and empowered enough to get the job done without him. Not one for micromanaging, he works to make sure every team knows what he wants, the direction he wants them to take and when he needs to be involved. Then, he says, it’s a function of giving the team the room they need to do the job.

Communication is a key aspect of empowering his teams, Cooper says. In additional to his open door policy, he holds town hall meetings every quarter to connect with WEX’s global IT community. His team also receives a monthly e-newsletter blast to help people stay current on activities within technology. Cooper periodically sits in on the regular IT staff meetings held by his direct reports as a way to hear about what’s going on and provide feedback on his priorities. And three or four times a week, he does “semi-random” one-on-ones with WEXers throughout IT to hear their feedback and priorities.

The Path to WEX

A native of Scotland, Cooper moved to the U.S. in 1994, and says he’s had two almost distinct careers during his 30 years working in software products. He honed his expertise in real-time 3-D graphics at Silicon Graphics, working on everything from flight and submarine simulators to movie and game technology for brands like Jurassic Park and Super Mario. When that company was acquired by Oracle, he got to experience the payments side of the software business. He then jumped into a fast-growth start-up that was acquired by Fiserv for $500 million within five years.

“I frequently change directions and work environments – going from start-up to large public companies and back again – so my advice is to think of change as something that can help you learn about new things and expose you to new opportunities,” said Cooper. “What I’m looking to do at WEX is take the energy, speed and enthusiasm of a start-up and blend it with the more predictable needs of a bigger company – all while making sure we keep at the forefront of technology.”

If Cooper’s remarks resonate with you, then check out our Career Center to see if there’s a spot for you in IT or on one of our other teams!

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