Phil Tomlinson, CEO @ TSYS
The Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce (GCGCC) is the ideal resource for area business people to network, share information, and ideas and collaborate on issues affecting the local business community. The Chamber was created to promote a business environment that sustains economic vitality, promotes economic development, and enhances the appeal to locate and grow businesses in the greater Columbus area.
However, business growth isn’t the sole purpose of the Chamber. The GCGCC is a catalyst for positive and continuous improvement in the lifestyles of the citizens of Columbus. The Chamber accomplishes its purpose by fostering good business practices and community involvement, contributing to quality of life, and helping to create a diversity of educational, cultural and entrepreneurial opportunities. TSYS has been a chamber member since 1982, and can proudly say the relationship works.
Columbus Chamber of Commerce Member Since 1982
Perhaps no other relationship better exemplifies the ongoing supportive role that the Chamber of Commerce plays in fostering business growth than our long and storied relationship with TSYS. The relationship began with a small bankcard processing division that emerged from Columbus Bank and Trust in 1959.
At that time, the entire data processing operation of CB&T was eight people in a basement of one of the local branches. From this modest beginning, CB&T became one of the first banks in the United States to develop an automated solution for processing credit card information. The company’s proprietary software, dubbed The Total System, soon became the preferred solution for processing and billing credit card information for financial institutions across the U.S.
Today, the company is called TSYS, and it has become the world’s largest processor of credit card information, offering an impressive suite of data processing solutions to a worldwide network of banks, financial institutions and retailers. From modest ambitions and humble beginnings to global reach and influence, the company has faced its share of growth challenges at every stage of its climb to prominence. During these critical times of growth the company has worked closely with the Chamber to find solutions and successfully reach the next stage of development.
GROWTH : A COLLECTIVE CHALLENGE
In 1996, the Chamber and TSYS faced its greatest collective challenge. The company’s growth had reached a tipping point that had it considering relocating its corporate headquarters to another city. To accommodate ambitious growth plans TSYS had made a large capital investment on emergent technologies and was now faced with the prospect of not only having to assemble an enormous new specialized workforce, but also procuring capital, real estate, and building the infrastructure necessary to house an expanded operation with global requirements.
When word got out that Columbus could lose one of our most valuable corporate citizens, The Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce sprang into action to find a solution that could help TSYS meet its growth objectives and stay in its hometown. The Chamber assembled a team of city leaders and TSYS President Phil Tomlinson to identify the challenges and plot a course of action. “The pressure to relocate was immense. When you have this much capital and this many jobs in play the stakes are huge. We needed help finding a solution that would let us grow without having to relocate,” said Tomlinson.
First, there was the matter of the workforce. TSYS needed 1,500 computer programmers to meet the rapidly changing requirements fueled by technological advancements. The Chamber saw this as a great opportunity to retain hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries within the community by investing in a different kind of capital: human. Through the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, TSYS and the University System of Georgia embarked on a partnership that would provide the credit card processor with the army of skilled technicians required to take their operation to the world stage. “Our demands for programmers simply exceeded the supply,” admitted Tomlinson. “The talent pool for our needs was simply too shallow at that time, but the Chamber and CSU hit the books and came up with a solution that helped us to fill in the gaps. If we couldn’t find qualified programmers, then we’d just help create them.”
The Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP) was created to expedite the education of mainframe computer specialists and help to prepare them to make an immediate impact on Georgia’s ever-accelerating information processing industry. The first ICAPP partnership between Columbus State University and TSYS, which made more than $23 million available and eventually trained more than 1,500 computer programmers, ended in 2003 after a seven-year run – a tenure rarely matched in most current partnerships – and all parties involved declared the endeavor a rousing success. CSU gained national credibility for its technology curriculum and TSYS got the competent, work-ready programmers they so desperately needed. A win-win solution for everyone.
But the employment success would prove to pose an even greater challenge. The new influx of programmers brought about the need for a larger campus to enable TSYS’s plans for global ascension. Again, Tomlinson met with the Chamber to see what measures could be taken to preserve the relationship that has long been a point of pride to Columbus. “Columbus is our home, and we were reluctant to even consider leaving, but our sudden and steady growth made expansion a necessity. We simply couldn’t continue on under the current paradigm. We were spread out all over Columbus. We were outgrowing each location. We simply had to consolidate our operations under one substantially larger roof,” explained Tomlinson.
In 163 years of service to local industry, the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce has accrued an impressive catalogue of knowledge, experience and benefits to further the interests of the business community. For this project, we pulled out all the stops. We helped TSYS identify and acquire lucrative tax credits to help keep financing and constructions costs down. Once a prospective location had been chosen, the Chamber took the lead with the Columbus City Government, The Regional Planning Commission and National and Columbus Historic Commission to ensure that procedures would be followed and utmost care taken in the renovation of the riverfront mills. The last hurdle we faced was perhaps the most delicate of all: the relocation of other local businesses. This part of the process was our proudest moment. For not only did we help to keep one of Columbus’ greatest success stories here at home; we also did our best to do right by the other businesses that were displaced in the transaction.
After all, the Chamber’s heart is with small business because that is where all businesses begin. No matter how small or large your operation, our dedication to your company will never waver. We will be there with you at the beginning in the basement and we will be there with you in the boardrooms of the world. Tomlinson is a testament to this commitment. “The rise of TSYS from a small local credit card processor to a world-wide operation has been a remarkable experience, and the Chamber has been there every step of the way. I have seen firsthand how hard they work on behalf of Columbus’ business interests and I believe wholeheartedly in our Chamber. So much so, I acted as the Chamber Chairman from 2003 to 2006. There are so many world-class businesses here in Columbus, each with wonderful opportunities to take their enterprise to the next level. It’s only a matter of time before the Chamber helps pave the way for the next great hometown success story.”