This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted at Portland House of Music on September 27, 2019.

Can you give the audience an overview of BlueTarp?

BlueTarp provides customized B2B trade credit programs for suppliers and merchants who sell their products and their services to other businesses. This could be anyone from the lumber yard on Main Street USA, all the way to Staples, who is one of our customers. The lumber yard who sells to contractors and builders could have 300 or 400 of their customers on our program, while Staples has 60,000 Staples customers on our program. We provide our partners with a branded account and payment program that enables them to sell more to their customers while we hold the credit risk. We integrate with however they sell to their customers, whether it’s online, in retail stores or over the phone. We’re taking care of the credit work, the service, the collections and all of the back office so they can focus what they do best: creating product and servicing their customers.

It’s exciting that the company started here in Portland, Maine, and is in the process of being acquired by Capital One. But first, Shawn, let’s learn more about you.

I grew up most of my life in the Raymond area. We lived on both Panther Pond and Little Sebago Lake for much of my childhood, which is just an amazing way to grow up. It was a pretty idyllic childhood in Maine, and I really enjoyed it.

What was your first job?

My first job was at an apple orchard in the Raymond area. There were big rolls of labels for the apple cider jugs and I put the stickers on the jugs. So it was real hard stuff. But even then I counted how many I could do in a half-hour. If I got one a little crooked, I agonized over it. It was the first time remember I realized I had that tension between productivity and quality.

When you graduated from Cornell University, you came back to Maine. What was your first job after college?

My first job was at L.L. Bean. I was a forecasting and scheduling analyst in the call center. Bean’s used to drop tens of millions of catalogs as the primary way of doing business. I would forecast how many calls would come into the call center from each catalog mailing, and we would build our staffing schedules from there. Bean’s is a great culture company and they put the customer first. Almost everyone says that, but Bean’s really lives it. That was ingrained in me and I always thought, “Well, everybody’s like this.” But every company isn’t like that. It’s something you have to work at. I carry those principles with me today.

Then my wife Shelly and I moved to Virginia, and I started work at Capital One. But we missed our family. We missed our friends. We missed Maine. We started making our way back home.

It seems like along the way, you picked up something at every one of your jobs that you still use today, going all the way back to the apple orchard, right?

That’s absolutely true. At Bean’s, it really was, “Put the customer first.” At Capital One, it was measure everything. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.

You finally got back to Maine and landed at BlueTarp in 2007.

A recruiter reached out about a new opportunity with a growing company in Maine. BlueTarp was the first smaller company for me, I had been a big company guy before that. When I got to BlueTarp, we were only about 40 employees. I’ve really, truly enjoyed the ability to move quickly and change direction very fast, and we now have 180 employees with 160 in Portland.

BlueTarp was founded in 1998 by Brian Rigney. It was his business school project that looked at the success of then Wright Express and said, “What they are doing in the fuel industry, I think that, hey, maybe there’s a similar opportunity in the building supply industry.” The company was first named Information Tools, we changed it to BlueTarp because “we’ve got you covered.”

We started out in the building supply space with small to mid-sized dealers selling $5 million to $50 million to their business customers. They were handling their credit programs themselves. They were not only running a business, but also acting as the bank for their customers. BlueTarp will run that whole process for them. The challenge is no two suppliers want to run their credit program the same way. We created a platform so that every partner of ours can design their payment and credit program the way that they want it. The diversity of need in the building supply industry is what allowed us to create this very powerful, very flexible technology platform that we operate today.

We realized we had the best B2B credit platform that’s out there, period. And then we really started looking at a national base and going more after larger customers, like Staples and Northern Tool and Equipment. The hard part is that we were a small company in Maine without a ton of brand recognition. Getting in the door with national customers became one of our larger challenges, so we looked to find partnerships. These conversations changed to, “Hey, this might work well as a partnership, but it probably works best if we become one company.” Then the conversation became, “Hey, this might make more sense if BlueTarp became part of Capital One.”

The due diligence process with Capital One was a very eye-opening experience for me. After nine months of work, we signed those documents at 3 o’clock in the morning on June 25th. The next morning at 9:00 AM, we held town halls to make sure all our employees were the first people to hear.

Tell us what is was like breaking the news to the staff.

There was a lot of anxiety. We worked through with Capital One the opportunity for all of our employees to become Capital One employees, and we’re maintaining our footprint here in Portland. All of our leadership here is staying in Portland, and that’s really good news.

Now all of our employees have their offer letter in their hands to become Capital One employees when the transaction closes. I’ve done lots of cookies and questions, where I set up a time for folks to come into a room and ask any question that they want, and let people get anything out on the table.

We’re all delighted to hear that your intention is to stay here in Maine and to grow the business.  Let’s go back and talk about the company culture.

There are five core values at BlueTarp. The first one is: Put the customer first. We try to live it every day. Our training from day one is less about, “Here’s the system that you have to use” and more about, “Here’s how we think about customers.” Making sure that we are doing a good job of delighting and meeting the needs of our partners’ customers is the only way we retain our clients.

The next two are: Be bold and be empowered. I put those two together. If we are a financial services company, we do have regulation and things that we have to do, but we tell people to use their creativity and innovation to do what is necessary to take care of the customer. We trust our associates to think and figure out what’s best for the customer and then go do it. I used to coach basketball and we would tell our players, “Don’t be a robot.” If we had a set play and the defense figured it out, we’d tell them not to keep doing it, because it’s not going to work. Do something else, be creative, be innovative. We want our associates to be empowered within the guidelines that we have to take care of the company and to take care of the customer.

Fourth one is: Take pride in what you do. We have high expectations for our company, we have high expectations for our associates and we want them to have high expectations for themselves.

Last one is: Share success. When we succeed, let’s share that with each other, recognize each other, and celebrate. It also means share the success of the company.

From a workforce perspective, we all read in the Press Herald about how tight the workforce is and how difficult it is to hire in Maine. How do you deal with that?

Maine has been great for us. I am constantly impressed and amazed at the folks that we have who will go above and beyond for the customer and above and beyond for the company. There’s a talented, dedicated loyal workforce in Maine that if you treat people right, then they really care about what they’re doing.

If you’re a people leader, you have three mandates as part of your job. The first one is drive results. The second one is be a steward of their career, which means know what’s important to your people. Know where they want go with their careers and make sure that you’re helping them get there. The third one is to create a fun and motivating work environment. We all have to come to work. Let’s make it as great an environment as we can.

One area that I will touch on is in the technology space. We’re a financial services company but we consider ourselves a fintech company. Our platform is a huge part of our differentiation. Our technology team here in Portland has completely built our proprietary platform. We innovate on it, incrementally improve it on a constant basis and it’s a core part of what we do. Technology talent is critical. I don’t think people outside of the Portland area understand that Portland is a pretty good technology hub.

If there’s one thing that you had an opportunity to do over again, what would it be?


You could say, “Nothing.”

This will surprise probably no one who knows me, I don’t like to be wrong. In some people that will manifest in a very negative way in terms of not letting in others’ opinions. With me, I think I was fortunate. That’s not as much how it manifested. I want to get to the right answer and I’m pretty collaborative that way. Sometimes I would not want to be wrong, so I wouldn’t make that hard decision. I would get stuck in the analysis phase. A good leader that I worked for called this out for me and said, “Hey, sometimes you’ve got to make the leap. Decide which side of the fence you’re on and go for it.” That was helpful for me, particularly as my career has progressed.

I still am strong at analysis and collaborating with others and getting input. But at some point, when you’re a leader, you’ve got to take the leap and make the hard, bold choice. When I look back at parts of my career, if I had adopted that a little bit sooner, there are some things that I would have done differently.

Because you described your leadership style as followership. Is that right?

Yes, it’s often now a conversation of, “Tell me how you think this is going.” People will sometimes say, “Yeah, well not great. We probably should be doing better.” Sometimes just by asking the question, you’ll get the answer you’re looking for. If not, I’ll say, “No, I think we really need to do better or we need to do different.” As a leader, you need to bring those two things together. If you’re getting feedback from someone, you want that feedback to be, “Hey, Shawn really pushes me. Shawn really challenges me. Shawn has high expectations. And he’s always there to support me. I know he wants me to succeed.” If you don’t have both sides of that, then you’re not doing everything right.

Shawn, thank you for being here. It’s really an inspiring story to hear the start, success and growth and now acquisition of BlueTarp. We’re delighted that you’re going to stay in Maine. Congratulations.

Thank you for having me.

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