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A Closer Look: Debra Janssen

Chief operating officer, CDS Global Inc.


Debra Janssen recently took over a newly created role as chief operating officer at CDS Global. Prior to taking the position, she most recently worked as a group executive of Integrated Processing Solutions and managing director of Access Prepaid Worldwide at MasterCard Inc., and has spent nearly 30 years working with high-volume transaction processing, often in leadership roles. CDS Global, a subsidiary of Hearst Corp., is a provider of outsourced business solutions, with 14 locations nationally and two internationally. As a Wisconsin native, this is Janssen’s first time living in Iowa.

Describe the position of COO.

CDS Global hasn’t had a chief operating officer role. So as we get into new things and expand our business, and the CEO does a fair amount of travel, it’s important to have somebody on the ground. We have 2,500 employees, so it’s significant in size. So it was a new role created. I basically have day-to-day operations and responsibility for all the operations, which include information technology and all the technology components, product management, our account management and conversion activities, and anything that touches a client.

What interested you in the position?

I thought it would be a great opportunity at this point in my career to have a C-level job in a new industry. I’ve been in the payments industry for almost 30 years, and so I thought it would be refreshing to take some of those skills and put them into a new industry and learn something new. Once I started meeting the people, that was a huge attracter to me. Our CEO is just an excellent individual. Our parent company, Hearst, was also an attracter to me. I’ve done a variety of things in my background. Some were start-ups; some were bigger legacy companies. I just thought it was a good opportunity to have a senior role in a very successful business with a very successful parent. And there were a lot of parallels with my background.

How have your past experiences prepared you for now?

I have held senior-level positions now for quite a few years. So I think I’ve been fortunate to get great experiences and a lot of time to hone my skills, because I’ve been doing this for quite a few years. I think I bring the leadership skills in a variety of settings. There’s not much that scares me anymore. I worked my way up through the organizations. I bring a good balance of what it takes to do the job at the staff level, but yet can traverse up to what we need to do from a management level. Businesswise, there’s just a lot of parallels everywhere I’ve been, taking a traditional ink-on-paper business and helping them become electronic.

How challenging is it to make the paper-to-electronic transformation?

I think it first of all starts with the company’s commitment to make it happen. Because I like to think what we do isn’t rocket science, but it takes commitment that you’re going to transform your business, because it’s not only people and skills and mindset. It’s systems, it’s technology, and you have to start with a commitment at the top that you are going to make the transition. I’ve worked at places where they said they were going to do that, but when it came to cannibalizing traditional parts of their business, they couldn’t do it. So their plans fell apart.

What are your goals in the position?

First of all, it’s just managing across the globe, under a single leader, the day-to-day operations, the customer relationships. I think in the past it was more vertical. Everybody kind of did their own thing. First and foremost, from a leadership perspective, is to set the strategy for how we’re going to operate and act and deal with our customers globally. Obviously we’re always looking for efficiencies and to do things smarter and better and those kinds of things. So that’s part of the job as well. And then really just setting the strategy for the transformation. Then motivating the staff, though honestly, I have a very motivated staff. It has been one of the more refreshing things I’ve found here. And then obviously I will play a key role in client relations. I love that part of the job.

What do you do outside work?

I love to travel. I have a 95-year-old, Betty, who I’m a guardian for. She was my next-door neighbor 25 years ago. It’s her, my husband and I. We’re big on family. My husband is one of 11, I’m one of six. Many of them are in the Midwest, so they’re really excited that we’re a five- or six-hour drive away. We’re huge Green Bay Packer football fans. We have season tickets, so it will be easier for me to get home for home games.

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