August 8, 2013

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

By Jessica Hall
Staff Writer

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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

A: Our largest international deal was in Australia. That deal gave us connections to 90 percent of the gas stations in Australia. Managing that deal gave us credibility with the street (Wall Street) and gave us a jumping-off point in the Asia-Pacific market. For Singapore and Hong Kong, we see opportunities in those markets for the fleet product and the virtual product.

Q: The company has grown through several acquisitions in recent years. What's the hardest part about integrating a new business into the WEX culture?

A: All acquisitions are different. The Australian acquisition did not have a lot of synergies. We can still be there on the ground, but it operates more as a standalone operation. When we did acquisitions in the U.S., such as Fleet One, we knew there would be some synergies. With every acquisition, we've learned more and more. From the management team's perspective, we need to be ready to put people in place. Both sides of the acquisition are crucial to the integration plan. We need both sides to buy into the integration for it to work. You also identify "centers of excellence," no matter which company they come from, and put them in place systemwide. We also need to bring our culture to bear. There's three C's to focus on in an acquisition: There's the cost to buy the acquisition, there's the control side, and the cultural side.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you've faced in managing the fast growth of the company?

A: There's execution risk. You have to keep up with the acquisitions while keeping your eye on the ball of organic growth. That goes to the issue of our bench strength. Our management team is deep. We're constantly developing people and looking for the best and brightest to bring on and develop. It's important to prioritize and delegate. You can't do everything yourself.

Q: What do you want to be remembered for as you prepare to change roles at the company?

A: On the business side, I feel comfortable we've established ourselves as the leader. We have a strong brand. And we've diversified -- 25 percent of our business is outside the fleet business. We've also expanded internationally. On the culture side, I feel very good about the culture we've created. We consistently get high 80s or better on employee satisfaction ratings. I feel good about that.

Q: Did coming up through the ranks of WEX make you a better manager? If so, how?

A: Yes, I've been through the trenches. We cracked the chicken-and-egg problem. In the early days, oil companies would say, "We understand what you're trying to do, but you have no customers." And customers would say that we had no oil companies signed up. So I had to hit the road and sell this concept. And we eventually cracked that problem. After eight years of losing money, we turned things around. It gave me a lot of perspective and respect about how the company got on its feet. We have good loyal customers -- they trust us and believe in us. We lost money through 1993. Once that changed, we had to look at how we could give back to the community. All of those early years in the trenches drove me to make sure we were good partners with our customers and good partners with the community.

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