April 25, 2011

The Bottom Line: Driven to grow

From humble beginnings, Wright Express has become a major processor of fuel purchases and aims to expand internationally.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND - Twenty-eight years ago, Wright Express operated a fuel purchase system at two gas stations in Portland and one in South Portland.

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Mike Boucher works in the data center at Wright Express in South Portland. Company management regards the loyal work force as a great asset.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Holly Morse, a customer service representative, talks with a customer in the call center at Wright Express.

Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

WRIGHT EXPRESS CORP.

HEADQUARTERS: South Portland

HISTORY: Founded in 1983 by William Richardson and Parker Poole III, relatives of Augustus Wright, who founded the coal delivery company A.R. Wright in the late 1800s.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 872, including 562 in Maine.

EXECUTIVES: Michael Dubyak, president, CEO and board chair.

WORTH NOTING: Wright Express’ roughly 100 customer services agents in South Portland field some 200,000 incoming calls each month.

FINANCIALS: 2010 revenue was $390 million, up 24 percent from 2009. The company predicts 2012 revenue will hit close to $500 million.

Today, the company's fuel credit cards are accepted at most of the nation's 150,000 stations and at gas pumps overseas.

With nearly $400 million in annual revenue, the South Portland-based company has become one of the largest players in the back-office business of processing fuel purchases.

President and CEO Michael Dubyak attributes his company's growth to a loyal work force, business diversification and continuing overseas acquisitions.

"We are looking to be aggressive," said Dubyak from his corner office at Wright Express' Gorham Road headquarters. "We built our reputation in North America. (Now is our) opportunity to expand internationally."

Processing fuel purchases is the primary business of Wright Express, which employs 872 staff, including 562 in South Portland.

On Wednesday, the director of data center operations, Alfred LeDoux, pointed to a computer screen in Wright Express' operations center on Darling Avenue.

"This is what we call our cash register. This is the money coming in," said LeDoux.

The screen flashed the names of dozens of U.S. cities, including Omaha, Grand Rapids, Tulsa, Tampa and Altoona -- places where customers were using Wright Express credit cards to purchase gas or diesel at that moment.

Transactions like these account for 70 percent of Wright Express' yearly revenue.

The company makes money by issuing Wright Express fuel cards to firms that own fleets of vehicles. Drivers swipe the card at the pump and enter their employee ID number and, in some cases, an odometer reading.

Computers in the pump talk to computers at Wright Express , which approves or denies the transaction.

Like other credit card companies, Wright Express earns money by keeping a percentage of each transaction, paid by vendors.

Though Wright Express cards function like other credit cards, Dubyak said his company offers security and reporting that other cards don't.

Wright Express tracks fuel efficiency and cost-per-transaction, location and time -- data clients use to analyze spending and compare fuel use across vehicles, divisions and regions, Dubyak said.

Wright Express also processes purchases on cards issued by oil companies, such as Sunoco Inc. and ExxonMobil.

In addition, Wright Express owns a bank in Utah, through which the company issues corporate MasterCards. The cards are used by travel agencies like Priceline to pay hotel and car rental partners, said Dubyak.

Wright Express was founded in 1983 by Parker Poole III and William Richardson, relatives of Augustus R. Wright, who started the coal delivery business A.R. Wright in the late 1800s.

Poole's and Richardson's idea was an electronic fuel purchase system that would let fleet owners track spending.

At first, the system only worked at three local gas stations -- one was the current Irving station on Commercial Street in Portland.

In 1985, the company raised venture capital and hired new staff, including Dubyak. And in 1986, Getty Petroleum agreed to accept Wright Express credit cards at all their 2,200 stations. Deals with Texaco, ExxonMobil and Canada's Imperial Oil followed.

Wright Express had a number of corporate owners over the years, including now-defunct Cendant Corporation, which went public with Wright Express in 2005.

Today, 90 percent of the roughly 150,000 U.S. gas stations and truck stops accept Wright Express cards, said Dubyak.

The company services some 5.4 million vehicles worldwide and has some 280,000 fleet customers in the United States, including hundreds in Maine. Clients include large companies like AT&T, local small businesses, state governments and federal agencies.

A few years ago, Wright Express began a series of expansions. In 2007, the company launched a Canadian banking operation and acquired Louisville, Ky.-based supply chain software company TelaPoint Inc.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Justina Velez talks with a customer while working in the call center at Wright Express in South Portland. Velez is a bilingual customer service representative, working with customers who speak English or Spanish.

Staff Photographer

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