Working across many cultures at Western Union  

26 March 2018:

When Western Union Holdings CEO Hikmet Ersek rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange in May 2015, it marked 150 years since the WU ticker was the first listed on Wall Street. Few businesses are as long lived. Western Union is one of only two companies still left from the original 11 in the Dow Jones Transportation Average.

Since its founding, Western Union has played a prominent role in American culture and commerce. The company built the first transcontinental telegraph line across the United States in 1861, issued one of the first consumer charge cards in 1914, launched the first domestic commercial satellite into orbit in 1974, and sold the first prepaid telephone card in 1993—not to mention sending the first CandyGram in 1959. Some of the world’s great tragedies have played out by Western Union telegraph. These include the last message sent from the Titanic, a distress call reading: “SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic.1 We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic.”

You can’t send a telegram by Western Union anymore, but the company continues to thrive at the forefront of the cross-border, cross-currency money-transfer and payments industry. Across more than 200 countries and territories, the company has more than half a million agent locations, and it offers services through more than 150,000 ATMs and kiosks, along with the ability to send money to billions of accounts. In 2016, Western Union completed 268 million consumer-to-consumer transactions and 523 million business payments world-wide, moving more than $150 billion of principal for consumers and businesses.

McKinsey’s Kausik Rajgopal and Lang Davison recently sat down with Western Union’s CEO to talk about its multicultural customer base (and leadership team), finding the simplicity within complexity, and how Ersek surprised everybody with his choice to lead the company’s digital innovation lab in San Francisco.

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Source: McKinsey

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