The Western Union Co. has greased the wheels of finance for 150 years.
It created the world's first stock ticker in 1869 and today the Englewood, Colo.-based firm helps millions of workers wire money to faraway friends and family.
At 445,000 locations worldwide -- everything from dedicated storefronts to kiosks in bodegas and post offices -- people pay a fee to send money via the Western Union network. The company pays its non-employee "agents" in each location a commission based on revenue. Western Union also makes money through foreign exchange transactions.
The company has been particularly busy of late, thanks, in part, to an increase in wire transfers from migrant workers sending money to their home countries. In 2010, remittances to developing countries hit a record $325 billion, according to The World Bank.
In the last year, Western Union added about 200 workers, a 2.9% increase in headcount, and 35,000 locations, an 8.3% increase.
Additionally, some 14% of Western Union revenue comes from businesses shipping funds to suppliers and units in other countries.
FINS sat down with Grover Wray, executive vice president of human resources at the firm, to discuss hiring in Lithuania, Thomas Edison's stint at Western Union and why his employer can claim to be one of the world's most global companies.
Kyle Stock: Most people are familiar with the Western Union name, but maybe it's best if you explain the business model.
Grover Wray: Our responsibility is to provide the marketing support to the agent locations. We like to think of it as a world class ethnic marketing effort. Every market is either a "send" market or a "receive" market. So every day there is a consistent cooperation of what we call 16,000 corridors -- that's one location sending to another location. I need to market to the sender and on the other end I need to have someone marketing to the receiver.
KS: What are the job functions at the firm?
GW: There's a large group that we would call settlement and accounting. Every day when you're moving money across currencies, there's a huge settlement function that needs to go on. The third function is really customer service, for people to call in and ask questions about transactions. Then you have the other functions that exist to support the running of the company.
Finally, we also have a very significant compliance function, because the nature of what we do has to comply with local regulations. When you're doing business in over 200 countries, you can imagine how complex that is.
KS: Is the company hiring?
GW: When you have a global business, you're always adding people. Recently, the focus has been in the local country teams. We are continuing to build out globally centers of excellence, which is where we can respond to customer-service inquiries regionally. They are essentially call centers.
KS: How many are there?
GW: There are five principal centers: one in the Philippines that represents our Asia business, then you have Costa Rica for the North America and South America business, Mexico City, which represents our Mexico business and Argentina, which is specifically focused on a consumer bill-pay business, and we have one in Lithuania, which is meant to cover Europe and Africa.
KS: You have 7,000 employees now. How has that figure changed in recent years?
GW: It's an increase. When we spun off five years ago from First Data, we had roughly 4,500 employees.
KS: How do you find candidates?
GW: When you're a global company, you have to think globally and you can't assume all the answers emanate out of a corporate location say in Denver, Colo. We have teams on the ground in these locations that go through the process of recruiting and screening talent. In Vilnius, Lithuania, we had teams on the ground that spent time in the market using all of the traditional recruiting technology and techniques, including career fairs.
KS: Is the Lithuania center new?
GW: It is. We announced it a little less than a year ago. We hired about 400 for it and that's over the course of the last six months or so.
KS: Western Union is certainly a well-known brand, does that help recruiting?
GW: The name itself carries 160 years of legacy. You can go back and count Andrew Carnegie as a former messenger boy at Western Union. You can go back and count Thomas Edison as a former office worker at Western Union. So we have a huge legacy to build on.
KS: Do you do much campus recruiting?
GW: A limited amount. Unlike some companies who have a churn -- where you have to fill the bottom of the barrel, because the top is spilling out -- we don't have that so much. We're hiring more experienced people.
We do have an intern program. And we do try to take advantage of those schools that have a very strong language capability.
KS: So turnover isn't a problem?
GW: In the last four years, our employees have been off the charts in terms of commitment. And it's not just the process of recruiting that cultivates that. Many of our customers are migrants who literally have to move from one part of the world to another. In some parts of the world, remittances have become a huge part of GDP. Our employees get that and they understand that what we do at the core is about making a difference in people's lives.
KS: Do you hire any candidates in the U.S. and send them abroad?
GW: We do. We're still developing that program a bit. We also hire people elsewhere and bring them into the U.S. because of that ethnic portion of our business.
KS: Has the firm downsized in any areas recently?
GW: Not really. We've been relatively stable. There's been movement, but I wouldn't call it shrinking. We might be smaller in one location but we're large in another location. We had a group of people in the U.S. that we ultimately moved to Costa Rica, for example.
KS: How would you describe the company's culture?
GW: Every year we have an annual kind of kickoff meeting where we invite 400 of our top leaders to one location and it looks like the UN. The diversity of our talent is absolutely amazing. It's world-class. We're proud of that diversity and it's an exciting thing to be part of that.
There's also a real spirit about making a difference in the world and that's a very real thing.
KS: What can we expect in the next few months?
GW: I would say continued growth in our products that are tech-driven -- our mobile business and the use of the Internet for the transfer of money. We've been public about our efforts to prepaid card biz. And I think you'll see much more advancement of that strategy as well.
Write to Kyle Stock