By all accounts, Edmund P. Jensen has all the global vision and industry knowledge that his new job - president of Visa International - will require.
But sitting across a table last week from Charles T. Russell, the man he will succeed, Mr. Jensen seemed every bit the eager student, hanging on every word, displaying an openness that may be just as crucial in dealing with 19,000 member institutions around the world.
At one point, when he had to leave the room for a moment, a reluctant Mr. Jensen pointed to Mr. Russell and asked an observer to "tell me what he says."
This exchange, which occurred last Thursday in a New York hotel room, bespoke a cordiality and respect that should make for a smooth changeover. Mr. Jensen, 56, a vice chairman at U.S. Bancorp in Portland, Ore., had announced a day earlier that he would take over for Mr. Russell, 63, on Jan. 2.
"It's going to be a very peaceful, long-term, bridging hand-off," Mr. Russell said.
"No hiccups," agreed Mr. Jensen, who expects to have his hands full finishing the fourth quarter at U.S. Bancorp. "I have a tremendous affection for the company," he said. "I will take as long as necessary."
Mr. Russell, who will stay on at the California-based card association for six more months to assist with the transition, took pride in his recruitment of Mr. Jensen. Mr. Russell had tried before, without success, to put a successor in place.
"I have been trying to retire from this company for three years," Mr. Russell said. He regretfully acknowledged that the timing may have put "a cloud" over his final months.
A Lot of Convincing
Things began to click a couple of months ago when Mr. Russell approached Mr. Jensen, a member of the Visa U.S.A. board since 1989 and the international board since 1992.
Mr. Russell said it took the Oregonian "the better part of a day" of convincing to consider becoming Visa International's third chief executive officer.
After more than a month of further discussions, which never leaked out to the public, Mr. Jensen was swayed by Visa's worldwide success and his fascination with payment systems.
"When he finally agreed to do it, I thought, |Let's get it done, and let's get it done quickly,'" Mr. Russell said.
Aware of the Challenges
Mr. Jensen is well aware of Visa's dominance in the worldwide card market and the battles it faces - especially intense in the U.S. market - against the likes of MasterCard and Discover.
His goal, simply stated, is to build Visa's momentum by focusing on marketing, alliances, and aggressively adapting to rapidly changing markets.
"We have to make the members successful," he said. "That's what makes Visa successful."
As the recently appointed Visa U.S.A. chief, Carl Pascarella, promised to do in the domestic market, Mr. Jensen vowed to hit the road to assess his members' needs in person.
Despite his service on the Visa boards and the fact that U.S. Bancorp is one of the card group's longest and strongest supporters - retired bank president Robert R. Mitchell is a past Visa chairman - Mr. Jensen is not well known at operating levels.
|Good Understanding of Visa'
Last week, he began the internal get-acquainted process in a two-hour worldwide teleconference for Visa employees. One who listened complimented Mr. Jensen on his enthusiasm, saying, "He seemed very dynamic."
"He has a good understanding of Visa," said Wesley C. Tallman, the card group's executive vice president for product and market development, who reported to a board committee
headed by Mr. Jensen. "He doesn't have to ask whv we are where we arc because he was a part of it."
Roger Breezley, chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp, regretted losing his chief operating officer - a rare senior-level departure from the biggest bank based in the Pacific Northwest. But he considered it an honor to this company" to contribute Visa's next CEO.
"This appointment reflects the vision and leadership that have marked Ed's career with LJ.S. Bancorp," he said.
Affinity, Cobranding Deals
He added that Mr. Jensen was "instrumental in our exploration of nontraditional banking services," including debit cards and electronic delivery systems.
U.S. Bancorp is also as active as any Visa issuer in credit card cobranding and affinity marketing - including deals with U S West and the American Automobile Association. Many Visa issuers want to get active in these areas, where Mastercard pulled ahead in recent years.
"We will be creative and vi-
sionary, and at times even revolutionary, in our response to the evolving marketplace," Mr. Jensen stated last week.
"He's always open to new ideas," said Mr. Breezley, who has known fi4r. Jensen for 17
years. "But he's very demanding on results. He will challenge the status quo."
Mr. Jensen grew up in Hono- lulu. After serving as an Army officer, he embarked on a diverse career that bepn with management positions at Dole, Castle, and Cook Inc. in Hono- lulu.
In 1967 he joined Technicolor Inc. in Los Angeles as director of financial planning. Two years later, he became group vice president for National Industries in Louisville, Ky.
Rose Through the Ranks
Mr. Jensen moved to Portland and the real estate business
in 1972. He switched gears to become president of corporate development and planning \A,-ith U.S. Bancorp in 1974. Mr. Jensen rose through the ranks to president, chief operating officer, and to his current vice chairmanship, overseeing the financial services businesses and corporate strategies. He pointed out that U.S. Bancorp grew from $2 billion to $21 billion of assets since he affived. The credit card operation, which reports to him, has doubled its cardholders in three years. Very Congenial Environment' Noting the longevity of service that is a U.S. Bancorp cultural trait, he said, "I'm the new kid at 20 years. It's a very congenial environment. Decisions don't have to go up and come down, they can go across. That's hard to leave." "I strongly believe in moving authority out to the customer," Mr. Jensen said. "I like to be a shirtsleeve manager. That's not sticking my nose into people's business. I'd like people around me who are that way too." "He's going to have his hands full with a lot of issues," Mr. Russell said. "From an international perspective, we've got pretty significant challenges in the development of the European market that relate to marketing and promotions and activation programs, most notabl', eastern Europe." In addition, Mr. Russell said, Visa must continue to update technology and payment system infrastructures.
Any nagging questions about Visa's top management have been settled with the recent appointments of Mr. Jensen at the top, Mr. Pascarella as president of the all-important U.S. region, and Lindsay Pyne as the Tokyobased president of the Asia-pacific region.
Fortunately, we have a very competent chap in America, with the advent of Carl Pascarella, who knows the card business inside out," Mr. Russell said. Noting that Mr. Pyne, a former New Zealand banker, is new to Visa, Mr. Russell added, "Ed's going to have to be kind of a father-confessor to some of these folks.
"I think he'll find it incredibly demanding and incrediblv rewarding. The beauty of working at Visa is no two days are ever the same."