Peter Rowan: ‘Failure gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger’

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[“Peter Rowan: ‘Failure gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger'” originally appeared on The Business Post.]

Peter Rowan is vice-president of international operations and global customer support with YapStone, the U.S. company that opened international headquarters in Dublin in 2012. YapStone then relocated to Drogheda and expanded its Irish office earlier this year, amid plans to create up to 50 new jobs within 12 months.

Established in California in 1999, YapStone is an online and mobile payment provider that processes payment volumes of up to $15 billion annually. It has raised $110 million to date from investors including Accel Partners, Meritech Capital, and Bregal Sagemount. Rowan is responsible for the company’s international operations and business growth. He leads a global team of 200 people, including 80 in Drogheda.

Tell us about your career to date.

I started my career as a police officer for the West Midlands Police in Birmingham in 1981. After a number of different roles, I transferred to the fraud squad and led investigations into international credit card fraud rings. I travelled between Britain, France, Germany, the US and Saudi Arabia. I quickly realized that the type of people we were dealing with were both clever and technically savvy. Fraudsters know no bounds and are willing to travel anywhere.

After 16 years as a police officer, I joined Visa International as the company’s fraud investigation management lead in Europe. Representing Visa member organizations in the EU, I was responsible for preventing and investigating organized fraud involving Visa payment cards and I travelled to 30 countries over a two-year span.

I then joined AIB Card Services in Dublin, where I led its card fraud team and, from there, moved to PayPal. In 2013, I was appointed senior director of risk operations for PayPal EMEA, with responsibility for 800 employees in Ireland and Germany. In the same year, I received my executive MBA from the Henley Business School through the Irish Management Institute.

In 2014, I joined Twitter, leading teams in Ireland and San Francisco and built a trust and safety presence in Singapore, focused on the Asia-Pacific market, I met Tom Villante, chairman and chief executive and co-founder of YapStone, last year and listened to him talk passionately about the company and his vision for international expansion, before joining last May.

Are you where you expected to be in your career?

Starting out in policing, I never expected to be leading international operations for a fast-growing fintech company. My original plan was to retire early, as both my parents died before retirement age, and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. I am still too young to retire today and am really enjoying the opportunity with YapStone and the team I am working with.

The biggest lesson I have learned in my career is: “If you look after your people, they will look after your business.” With this in mind, I have always endeavored to put people first and never ask them to do something that I would not do myself.

What was the best career advice you got along the way?

Believe in yourself. If there is a job you want to apply for but think you can only do half the job, then have the personal belief that you can learn the rest. If you feel you can do the job easily or know everything there is to know, why apply for it? It will not give you the opportunity to learn, grow, or be challenged.

Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?

Build an environment of trust, respect, and engagement with your teams. It should never be about “me.” If you get your self-orientation wrong, no matter how innovative or clever you are, you will not have your people with you and in my opinion, you will fail as a leader.

Leadership is not just about being liked, you have to earn respect from your teams and colleagues.

Empower people. Guide them in the right direction and let them go.

Take risks. It’s ironic that even though one of my responsibilities at YapStone is to manage risk, I still believe in taking risks in your career.

How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?

I used to be the person who did everything and always wanted to lead from the front. I have learned that to be an effective leader, you have to step out of the way and let your team figure it out and do what they need to do. It is also vitally important to be there to pick them up when or if they fail and then coach them back to the right path. Failure is a good thing and gives us the opportunity to learn and grow stronger.

In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?

  • “Know what your team had for breakfast” – which means that managers must get to know their people really well and understand what motivates and demotivates them. With this insight, you can understand how to get the best from your people and your teams.
  • “It’s okay to say “no”” – it may be difficult at first, but it gets easier. Sometimes, it’s better to say no at the outset and explain why, rather than trying to be nice to people.

What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?

I prefer face-to-face conversations with people rather than email. In a global organization with multiple offices and time zones, a meeting is not always possible or practical so you have to empower your local leaders to deliver your messages. When you make a mistake, be honest and be prepared to admit it – then share what you learned from that mistake and how you will avoid repeating it.

Has networking played an important part in your career?

It’s a bit of a joke with the YapStone leadership in Walnut Creek that I am being tagged “Mr. Ireland.” If I don’t know someone to get something done, then I know someone that knows someone. If you are not prepared to get out, network and get to know people, but also let them know you, then you will struggle in the global village we operate in today.

If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?

I am a passionate cook, and I would love to have owned and operated a restaurant or a small hotel – and maybe I will yet.