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Posted: August 17, 2009

Executive edge: Ranjana Clark

Western Union vice president’s Indian heritage prepared her for working with immigrant populations

Rebecca Cole

Growing up in India, Ranjana Clark understood what it meant to be an immigrant.

After the British divided the country in 1947, Clark’s father, a native of Bangladesh, became “an immigrant in his own country,” she said.

Clark, now an executive vice president for global strategy for Western Union, said her experience offers a “level of empathy and understanding” toward newly arrived immigrants and migrant workers, the company’s primary customers.

“Western Union has a strong affinity with the immigrant population base,” Clark said.

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After receiving a master’s degree in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, Clark went on to obtain a second MBA, this time in finance, from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Early in her career, Clark worked for Deutsche Bank in Mumbai and then spent 20 years with Wachovia Corp. and Wells Fargo in the U.S.

Hired by Western Union in March, Clark, 48, says she “has a lot to learn” about the company, and is traveling the world — Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa — to study the market dynamics of each area

“I am on my own tour of learning,” Clark said. “I’m going out in the field to get an intuitive feel for the business.”

Founded in 1851 as a telegraph company, Western Union today has 379,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries. The company’s wire transfer services move about 17 percent of the world’s money every day.

Clark said her priority is to keep that worldwide network strong by expanding the core money transfer and bill payment business, especially in the company’s growing business-to-business sector.

“It’s a jigsaw puzzle, and there are about 10 pieces that need to fit together,” Clark said. “My job is to make sure Western Union’s global distribution network remains second to none.”

One of those pieces is leveraging rapidly evolving technologies, including online and mobile. For a migrant in a developed country, using the Internet to transfer money may be simple. But getting it to the folks back home is another story.

“If someone’s mother lives in a remote village, where are you going to send the money to?” Clark said.

Clark is also heading up Western Union’s Global Payment Solutions, which will oversee the recently announced acquisition of Custom House, a provider of international B-to-B payment services. Slated to close in the third quarter of 2009, the $370 million cash acquisition of the Canadian-based company will help Western Union diversify and grow its customer base, Clark said.

In 2008, Clark was named to U.S. Banker magazine’s “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking,” and has been on its Top 50 list every year since its inception in 2003.

As a woman rising through the ranks in the mostly male world of banking, Clark said she wasn’t particularly conscious of any bias.
“People were always willing to take a chance on me,” Clark said. “I also have a pretty thick skin so it might have been around without me noticing it. But I didn’t feel like being a woman hindered me or helped me.”

Clark said she has had to make choices in her career, foregoing certain opportunities and for a time eschewing constant travel, while raising her daughter, now 16.

But with her daughter and husband still living in Charlotte, N.C., and Clark shuttling between Denver, Charlotte and the rest of the world, she said with their differing schedules she sometimes finds herself being greeted only by the family’s two dogs back in Charlotte.

“Sometimes I go home just to see them,” Clark said. “Everyone is away, and the dogs just sit and love me.”

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Rebecca Cole is the online editor at Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit "think-and-do" tank that drives the efficient use of energy and resources. Learn more about RMI's latest initiative, Reinventing Fire, to move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050.

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