Earlier this month, we added Steve Boehm, former eBay and payments senior leader, to our executive team. Boehm, a seasoned customer experience leader, joins AvidXchange as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, reporting to the CEO, Michael Praeger.
As COO, Steve will bring his scale-driven, global, and public company perspectives to AvidXchange. He and the Customer Delivery teams he will lead are charged with delivering world class products, implementation services, and ongoing support to AvidXchange’s growing and sophisticated customer network which is currently comprised of more than 5,000 customers.
We sat down with Steve to learn more about our new COO and his work in the payments space. Check out the interview below!
What’s something about yourself that you think would surprise people at AvidXchange?
“My last job required me to travel all over the world, all the time, so I don’t know if that would be surprising or not, but I’ve gotten to spend time in places that, up until five years ago, I’d never seen.
I’ve had dinner while going down a river in Moscow. I’ve eaten on the roof of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. I’ve seen the terracotta warriors in Xi’an, China. I’ve been to the Berlin Wall. I’ve spent time in Seoul, Mumbai, Berlin, Dublin, London, etc. The travel part of my last job was interesting, but my learning from traveling is that people’s needs everywhere are very much the same.
People may have different languages, cultures, religions, but their motivations are the same: to be successful in their personal lives, to have a professional life that is in harmony with their personal life, and find a way to contribute to their development and advancement. No matter where I went, when I’d sit and talk with people and we talked about what mattered to them, it was those same things. I was kind of naïve about that…there are many things that make us different, but fundamentally we seem to be seeking many of the same outcomes.
What are your favorite places that you’ve traveled to?
I love Sydney, Australia, Dublin, and Berlin. They’re cosmopolitan cities, but they’re not mega-cities.
We know that you wound up in payments, but what did you want to do when you were a kid?
When I was in middle school, I thought I wanted to be a teacher because I enjoyed being part of e people figuring out how to do things they didn’t think they could do. Later, I went to a seminar about educational careers and figured out that teachers didn’t make much money. It sounds shallow – money wasn’t my main motivation–but I didn’t want to have family finances be a stress point in my life, so I realized that probably wasn’t something that would work out for me. So, I decided to find a career in business where I could be part of a team and solve problems.
For a while when I was a teenager, I played the drums in a band, and I thought I was going to be a big-time rock drummer, but I wasn’t talented enough, and I wasn’t willing to pay the price – the amount of practice time to be great – I wasn’t prepared to give up everything else that mattered to me in life – sports, friends – so that dream ended.
What sparked your interest in payments and led to a lifelong career?
Out of college, I went into a management trainee program at a small bank in Northern Virginia outside of Washington D.C. About three weeks before the program was set to end, I got a call from a guy in HR who said, “Hey we’ve got a shortage over here in this department that deals with credit cards, and we’re going to send you over there for six months to help out.”
This is going to date me a bit, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t know what a credit card was – I didn’t have one, my parents didn’t have one – so the idea that you could replace physical money with something that was becoming increasingly electronic was interesting.
The thing about money is that it’s something about which people are really emotional. Research has shown that only a person’s health generates more emotion than the subject of money and financial security. The idea that electronic money would replace paper, currency, barter was interesting. So, I went down that path and realized I didn’t know a thing about technology, which prompted me to go back and get my master’s degree. My MBA is in Information Systems, which is what they used to call the general technology curriculum.
One thing led to another. I worked at VISA for a time, then I came to Charlotte as COO of Wachovia’s credit and debit card business, did a bunch of different jobs in banking, went to First Data, eBay, and now AvidXchange. The point is that – even though I had a lot of different jobs – they have all been about moving money and serving customers remotely, in a setting that wasn’t face-to-face. They were all about the intersection of people and technology and largely about money, either payments or commerce.
There are always two human beings involved in every commerce transaction: one buying, one selling. The challenge is in figuring out how to put a human face on digital commerce or payments. A lot of companies are trying to figure out how to not lose a sense of humanity and deal with clients as individuals, all while leveraging technologies that are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
What advice do you have for people who are just getting started in their career?
No one knows when they’re first out of school exactly where they’re going to end up. I was never really focused on describing the job I wanted, but more the characteristics of it, the types of things I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be in a position where I could represent my company broadly in an industry. I knew I wanted to be at a place where I could be part of a team and in a leadership role where I could help orchestrate large and complicated problem-solving. But other than that, I didn’t have much of a plan.
I decided to take on every grimy, dirty job early on and kill it. I didn’t care what it was, no matter how small or ridiculous it seemed at the time, I decided I was going to be great at it, and that would earn me the right to ask for more. What I found is, I didn’t have to ask for more. By taking that approach that I would take on just about anything and bring people together around it and kill it, people started approaching me and asking me to do more.
My advice is that it’s not about having a plan to get to an exact address, but more about getting to a theoretical zip code… a general description of what you think you’d like to do longer term. Be prepared to pay the personal price to build the capabilities you will need to achieve what you say you want and then go with the flow. No plan lasts longer than about five minutes. You must be adaptable. No one saw the 2008 financial crisis destroying most of the financial services industry, including the company I worked for, which was sold to Wells Fargo. That was a big curve ball, but you take it in stride and adapt and figure out what you’re going to do next.
Why AvidXchange at this point in your career?
I’m really focused on continued personal growth. I had several opportunities to do different things and I chose AvidXchange because the business is somewhat familiar but it’s also new enough that there’s really nothing about it that I fully understand. The point is, the kind of challenges I like – dealing with growth and scale, creating a high-performance culture, being part of a place that values people and customers – all those things came together when I got a chance to look more closely at AvidXchange. After getting a chance to talk to people on the board of directors and the leadership team, it just seemed like the right move.
It’s a very different company than those I’ve worked for before. It’s a much smaller company than I’ve worked for recently so figuring out how I can add value while I’m learning here is still something I work on every day, but I like the mission of the company. I like the culture of the company. I like the CEO and the board. Candidly, the chance to be part of doing something great and put Charlotte on the map in a more material way is a pretty cool opportunity.
What else should people know about you?
As a person, I hate hierarchy. I don’t like anything that creates distance between people and simultaneously I’m an introvert, so it’s awkward for me to wade into groups where I don’t know people. Sometimes people will confuse my awkwardness with me being standoffish or hierarchical, like I’ve got this big, important job and I’m too busy to talk to people. I’d like people to know I’m very comfortable one-on-one and in large group settings, but in small groups where I don’t know people, that’s a hard thing for me to deal with socially. Do not confuse my awkwardness in the early moments of meeting people with a lack of interest on my part in getting to know you.