Business Monday

Western Union’s Europe, Latin America operations run from South Florida


WESTERN UNION CHIEF: Odilon Almeida, the Western Union CEO for Latin America, at the company’s Hallandale office.
WESTERN UNION CHIEF: Odilon Almeida, the Western Union CEO for Latin America, at the company’s Hallandale office.

From its offices in Hallandale Beach, Western Union oversees more than 2,500 employees across 98 countries in the Americas and Europe.

In two important aspects, that makes Western Union different from the other 1,300 multinationals with offices in South Florida, according to research conducted for WorldCity's Who's Here directory.

First, the geographic sweep is larger than most multinationals here. Outside the companies with their global headquarters in South Florida, multinationals in South Florida tend to focus on Latin America and the Caribbean, or some portion of it. Western Union’s office is headquarters for the Americas and the European Union.

Second, the ratio of employees overseen relative to those who work in the Hallandale Beach office is far outside the norm. Most of the multinationals oversee fewer than 10 outside employees per employee in the local office; Western Union – with its 60 employees in South Florida – oversees more than 40 employees for each one in the local office.

At the helm since January of the Hallandale Beach headquarters is the president of the Americas and Europe, Odilon Almeida – though there's a better-than-even chance he is not in the office on any given day. Three weeks out of four, he says, he is on the road. That’s not surprising, especially considering he is the first person in the position as it is now structured. (Since January 2013, he has overseen the Americas; the role recently was expanded to include Europe as well.)

Which leads to a third difference. Overseeing about 60 percent of the storied, 153-year-old Colorado-based company’s $5.5 billion in global revenues, Almeida is one of about four dozen “Billion Dollar Bosses” – they oversee at least $1 billion in annual sales – in WorldCity’s Who’s Here database.

Overseeing 98 countries across numerous times zones is a challenge. He has a dozen direct reports, four that cover a geographic region and eight that are in functional roles. Once a month, he also makes a trip to company headquarters in Colorado.

But, when asked his biggest challenges, Almeida mentions things that are, in fact, familiar to many executives: the disruption to their business model caused by the internet, rapidly evolving customer preferences and the escalation of regulatory efforts.

The good news is that digital, while still relatively small, is the company’s fastest-growing sector, according to published reports from the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

There’s even a silver lining in the regulatory environment. Yes, the level of regulation of cross-border transactions is leading Western Union to grow its compliance department to about 2,000 workers by early next year, according to the company. While that’s expensive, it can also push out competitors.

“Higher compliance costs are becoming the standard moving forward for the money-transfer industry to operate in the cross-border remittance market,” says Almeida, a Brazilian triathlete who rises at 5 a.m. each morning for an exercise regimen.

“At Western Union, we believe this investment is creating a competitive advantage – as no other operator has the breadth and scale as we do.”

Western Union, the world’s best-known money-transfer company, is familiar with adaptation. It began as a telegraph company in the 1850s, only entering the money-transfer business in 1871. A few years later, after losing a patent lawsuit to the Bell Telephone Co., (at the time, the phone was its major threat), 1800s, Western Union decided to focus on money transfers.

Today, it conducts a transaction somewhere in the world 29 times a second. It ranked No. 458 in the Fortune 500 this year. Its 10,000-plus employees represent 104 nationalitiesm, speak 37 languages and dialects and work in more than 50 countries. And they get paid in almost four dozen currencies.

Says Almeida, “Our business is moving money for those everyday heroes who live away from their home as they work and create a better life for their families and themselves.”