August 8, 2013

A Word With the Boss: Time in trenches key to WEX leader's success

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

Michael Dubyak has been with WEX for 27 years, working in a range of positions in marketing, sales, business development and customer service. From August 1998 to April 2013, Dubyak, 62, served as president and chief executive, and he added the title of chairman of the board of directors in 2008.

click image to enlarge

WEX executive Michael Dubyak, shown at the company’s headquarters in South Portland, says his biggest decision in 27 years was having the company take the risk of expanding internationally.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

In May 2013, Melissa Smith was named president and will become both CEO and president on Jan. 1, when Dubyak will become executive chairman of the board, moving on to a new phase in his life that includes a little down time.

WEX celebrates its 30th anniversary today. The company's fleet fuel-card program has grown since 1983 and the cards are now accepted at more than 90 percent of U.S. retail fuel locations and more than 45,000 vehicle maintenance locations. Corporate and government vehicle fleets with more than 7.6 million vehicles use WEX's charge cards to purchase fuel and maintenance services.

WEX announced Tuesday that it was suspending a planned expansion or relocation of its corporate headquarters in South Portland. Dubyak, who was interviewed for this Q&A before the announcement, and a company spokesperson declined to elaborate Wednesday on why the expansion had been put on hold.

WEX employs about 1,400 people, including more than 600 in Maine. The company's stock price has risen more than 40 percent over the past year. In the second quarter, WEX posted adjusted earnings of $41.1 million on revenues of $178.3 million, topping Wall Street expectations.

In 2012, Dubyak earned $2.48 million in total compensation, including salary, stock awards, incentive plans and all other compensation, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Q: What's the most dramatic change you've seen at WEX in your 27 years there?

A: Completing the initial public offering in 2005. That secured our independence. We had six owners prior to that, and there was always a question of "Are they going to move us, change us?" We had two companies trying to buy us at the same time. With the IPO, we got to define how the business would operate on its own. Since the IPO, we have acquired eight companies and we now operate in five countries. The IPO defined the degrees of freedom to be an industry leader. We had a board of directors solely devoted to us. The IPO was crucial.

Q: What's the most controversial or biggest decision you've made as a boss at WEX?

A: The biggest decision was the move to expand internationally. We were a leader in North America, but were we going to be willing to expand and take the risk? With our fleet cards, we had oil companies working on an international basis. We thought we could really leverage our brand and our connections.

Q: International expansion has been a big part of the company's growth in recent years. Can you talk about what you've learned about navigating different cultures and ways of doing business?

A: We learned that you have to put some of your key people in place to try to explain and insert aspects of our culture into the partners. It's tough because all cultures are different and all company cultures are different. You have to get some of your key people on the ground to help smooth the transition.

Q.: You've mentioned in the past that WEX wants to expand in Asia and the Pacific -- what's the appeal and risk of that type of expansion?

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