Visa's product and market development team is going international.

Moving to beef up its global product support, communications, and related functions, Visa is expanding the scope and responsibilities of a 50-member staff headed by Wesley C. Tallman.

Mr. Tallman, Visa U.S.A.'s executive vice president of product and market development, has been given the same title and responsibility for Visa International as well.

Internally, it means Mr. Tallman reports to both H. Robert Heller, president of Visa U.S.A., and Charles T. Russell, chief executive officer of the international body.

Mr. Tallman is a counterpart on the executive vice president level of Roger Peirce, who is responsible for systems and operations.

From the critical strategic standpoint, the increasingly influential Mr. Tallman and his team of managers, with noteworthy domestic accomplishments under their belts, will turn their attention to the whole global picture.

Shrinking World

"It may be a cliche, but there is a realization that the world is becoming a smaller place," Mr. Tallman said in a telephone interview from his San Mateo, Calif., office.

"There is an explosion in card usage, both debit and credit," he said. "All regions want support for such things as debit cards, corporate cards, and business cards, so we brought our resources together" to meet international needs.

Mr. Tallman's domestic product and market development staff dwarfed the resources that had been available internationally. The growth in global demands prompted the realignment. Mr. Tallman stressed that the U.S. region will not suffer in the transition.

Visa U.S.A. is the largest of the autonomous regional units in the Visa International structure. The others, which include fast-growing card markets in developing countries, are Canada, Latin America, Europe-Middle East-Africa, and Asia-Pacific.

Debit Cards Burgeoning

Mr. Tallman pointed out that while U.S. credit card growth rates have slowed in comparison to those in the rest of the world, the U.S. debit card business is just beginning to take off.

Visa expects its debit products -- Interlink and Visa Check -- to grow to 100 million cardholders, from the current 30 million, within a few years. That would require significant involvement by his staff.

"We have never grown that fast in credit cards," Mr. Tallman said. "It took 20 years to reach 100 million. (There are currently 152 million Visa cards in the United States and 309 million worldwide.)

Visa International anticipates growth in payment volume from $500 billion of this year to $1 trillion by 2000, so demands for staff support will escalate in the United States and other regions alike.

"We have some very talented and capable managers and middle managers," Mr. Tallman said. "The idea was to spread that expertise."

Meanwhile, he said, it is likely that Visa will add staff just below the level of those who report to Mr. Tallman.

That level includes Greg Bjorndahl, overseeing product operations; Richard Hagedorn, credit products; Peter Gustafson, debit products; and Mike Nash, market development.

Mr. Tallman has also consolidated international market research, under Harvey Bondar, and marketing and communications, under John Bennett, the veteran Visa U.S.A. executive who engineered the Olympics sponsorships that have become key elements of Visa's advertising and promotions.

"We have never before had an international marketing-communications function," Mr. Tallman said.

Mr. Bennett was "very good at taking the international Olympic flavor and communicating it to the U.S. market," Mr. Tallman said. "We are looking to him to spread that effectiveness" so that other regions can get the same mileage from the sponsorship.

A Payment-System Veteran

Transferability, in fact, describes much of what Mr. Tallman is doing and has done throughout in his career.

Before joining Visa U.S.A. in 1989, the 50-year-old executive spent three years in an older but parallel payment system -- as chief operating officer of Paychex Inc., a Rochester, N.Y., payroll processor.

Mr. Tallman came to Visa as executive vice president of debit products -- an appointment that signaled Visa's seriousness of purpose in that emerging area. He used the post as a springboard to the broader product and market development job.

Earlier, he spent 20 years at Chase Lincoln First Bank, the Rochester subsidiary of Chase Manhattan Corp., rising to senior executive vice president.

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