Hypercom Corp. of Phoenix, the payment terminal vendor fond of contrasting its "focus" with competitor Verifone Inc.'s more diversified strategy, has taken in some Verifone talent.
In recent weeks, Hypercom hired two relatively high-ranking Verifone executives: William H. Smiers as head of a new software development center in Dallas, and Mark McMurtrie as director of marketing for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Officials at the rival companies, the two biggest manufacturers of point of sale card authorization terminals, speak in only vague terms about any deeper meaning in these hires. But the moves clearly say something about strategic directions.
Verifone, the Hewlett-Packard Co. subsidiary that used its POS leadership as a springboard to Internet commerce, recently installed Robin Abrams as president and chief executive officer. She succeeded Hatim Tyabji, the company's dominant personality for 13 years, and a company known for being in constant flux is going through a cultural shift.
A spokesman for Verifone in Santa Clara, Calif., indicated that announcements of personnel changes, reflecting an evolving corporate vision, are forthcoming.
Hypercom president and CEO Albert Irato spoke in an interview about the credentials of Mr. Smiers and Mr. McMurtrie and put them in the context of sticking to the POS knitting.
"We have to have the best people we can find if we are to continue to grow," said Mr. Irato. "We have never wavered from that focus on the POS terminal business.
"We are fortunate that these experienced people became available. They know the industry and the payment systems and can hit the ground running"- and many Hypercom customers know them.
Hypercom announced Mr. Smiers' appointment a month ago as vice president of engineering development. He was vice president in charge of Verifone's Dallas engineering and development center and had additional responsibilities in another center in Bangalore, India.
Mr. Smiers, 54, previously worked in engineering management positions at Texas Instruments and Lockheed Electronics.
Paul Whittle, Hypercom senior vice president of POS product development, characterized Mr. Smiers and people coming with him as "the best of the first-round draft choices in our industry."
Hypercom, which went public last November and is running at an annual revenue rate of $200 million with about 1,000 employees, followed Verifone's move toward Internet commerce opportunities, but through more modest investments and an emphasis on partnerships with software companies.
Verifone was about three times the current size of Hypercom when it was absorbed into Hewlett-Packard a year ago, and its results are now consolidated. Hypercom claims to be eating into Verifone's market share.
Hypercom's focus on POS terminals and networking, Mr. Irato said, calls for more attention to, and diversification of, engineering and development efforts. In this sense, Hypercom is looking more multinational like Verifone, with development centers operating or planned in North America, South Africa, Asia, and Europe.
"The closer you put development resources to your markets, the better you are able to create the software that will meet the various needs of those markets," Mr. Irato said.
One obvious requirement for flexibility is in the area of smart cards, which are rolling out less quickly in the United States than in other parts of the world.
"We never bet our strategy on one phenomenon like electronic commerce or smart cards, but we will be ready when it hits a flash point," Mr. Irato said.
"We pay a lot more attention to what our customers and prospects are saying than to what competitors are doing," he added. "Sometimes we get lucky and can bring on board a guy like Bill Smiers."
Mark McMurtrie, 34, based in London and reporting to Hypercom International president Jairo Gonzalez, spent eight years with Verifone developing and implementing European marketing strategies.
Like Mr. Irato, Mr. Gonzalez underlined the growth objective when the appointment was announced in early July. He said Mr. McMurtrie brings "the strategic insight necessary to continue to accelerate the growth of our business and of Hypercom's market share."
On the financial front, Hypercom said July 9 that its board authorized repurchases of up to 500,000 shares of stock. The share price, which had been near its low of $9.25, has in recent days been above $10.
George Wallner, chairman, said it is "an excellent investment, particularly at recent trading levels. In addition to our growth strategies, supported by an aggressive program to develop new technologies and an outstanding global sales force, this repurchase program demonstrates our commitment to enhance shareholder value."