The Great Rated! Interview: Andy Khawaja On Creating A Workplace For Millennials

Andy Khawaja is young at heart. That may be the simplest way to explain how the card payment company he founded and leads, Allied Wallet, recently ranked as one of the 10 Great Workplaces for Millennials according to a Great Rated! study. Khawaja, 39, started his Los Angeles-based credit card processing company in 2002 after a decade in retail on glamorous Rodeo Drive. As formative to him was a childhood growing up in war-torn Lebanon, which gave him a carpe-diem yet compassionate mindset. He now leads a team of about 1,000 employees, the vast majority of whom are under 35. And while he agrees with Great Rated! research that fair pay, a say in decisions and competent leaders matter to Gen Y, Khawaja says his secret to success with the younger set boils down to giving them a thrill ride at work. “I like to take risks,” says Khawaja, who expects to take his company public someday. “If you don’t take risks, you never get anywhere in life.” Great Rated! Editor Ed Frauenheim recently spoke with Khawaja about Millennials, the Allied Wallet workplace, and his own youthful heart.

Ed: Most of your employees are under 35. Why is that?

Andy: Age isn’t a factor for me. You can be a grandpa here, if you can deliver. A lot of the people skilled in the business of e-commerce are at a young age.

Ed: One of your strengths at Allied Wallet is your bosses—96 percent of employees give leaders at your firm a positive rating. What are you like as a boss to Millennials?

Andy: They’re my teammates. They’re my partners. Without them, I’m nothing. I hate it when they call me ‘boss.’ I like it when they call me ‘buddy.’ Everyone in the company calls me buddy.

I grew up in Beirut until the age of seven. I got a taste of civil war, and realized you can’t count on living tomorrow because you never know when your time is up. So I live a life where you have to be really nice, very kind, and take care of your people—especially the people that work for you. We’re probably the highest paying company in our industry in the world. The same position in another company will get paid three times less.

Ed: That fits with part of our research on Millennials. We found that they really care about fair pay, a say in decisions and competent leaders. Do you see those other factors at play among Allied Wallet’s young employees?

Andy: You have to listen. You have to give them a chance to speak. I visit other companies, and it’s only the decision-makers deciding. You as an employee execute their decisions. It’s only about one-way communication.

Let them share ideas. We listen to them, and we understand what they want. Sometimes their idea is better. That creates more of a dream-come-true environment. And if someone comes up with a brilliant idea, they get rewarded. They can get $2,000-$3,000 checks. Some of them get nice vacation packages. Some of them get gift cards.

Ed: Work-life balance is another factor Millennials are said to prize. But at Allied Wallet, you seem to want an intense commitment from your folks, and to offer them a quest to conquer the global payments industry. True?

Andy: Absolutely. I give them dreams. And then we accomplish those dreams and they’re so proud of it. They feel like they’re part of something big.

Ed: As you expand globally you’re taking significant risks along the way. Does this way of doing business appeal to young people?

Andy: Are you kidding me? It’s like a motivational film. All young people love risk. It encourages them. They want to taste it. It makes them feel good. It’s like a business drug.

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(About Andy Khawaja: Andy Khawaja is CEO and Founder of Allied Wallet, a global payment processing company that connects merchants and consumers in over 190 countries, processing 164 currencies and nearly every payment method. With the securest PCI Level 1 technology and a proprietary black list and fraud scrub method, Allied Wallet has established itself as a brand of excellence in the world of online payment services. Prior to Allied Wallet, Khawaja reached several milestones in the retail industry working with the Bernini brand. Khawaja was able to grow Bernini from two stores to sixty stores in nine years, taking it from a million dollar business to a 100 million dollar business.)

(About the Author: Ed Frauenheim is editor at workplace research site Great Rated!™, where he produces content and reviews companies.)

The Great Rated!™ Interview: Todd Wheatland On The Brand Connection

Todd Wheatland straddles the boundary between employer brand and overall company brand. And to hear him tell it, that line is blurring. The face companies put forward to job seekers is increasingly just part of the overall brand message—making the employer brand more important than ever, says Wheatland, who has a background in both the talent world and the marketing arena. He currently serves as head of strategy at content marketing firm King Content, but spent eight years as global head of thought leadership for staffing giant Kelly Services. A sought-after speaker and one of LinkedIn’s Top 25 Social Media Experts, we were keen to get Wheatland’s take on the shifting landscape of employer brand.

In a recent interview, he shared his insight on brands and their importance in all aspects of today’s business.

Ed: You talk about the need for “convergence” when it comes to the overall company brand and the employer brand. Can you say more about that?

Todd: I’m a big proponent of content marketing, or basically companies acting as publishers. That model has proven so successful in terms of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing. But there’s been this big gulf between what companies were doing to the outside world with those things, and what companies were still doing around the way they viewed talent, and brought talent on board, and managed talent. You’ve got different parts of the company responsible for different ways of dealing with the outside world. Increasingly, no one outside of your company cares about your silos.

Ed: Can you give an example?

Todd: Starbucks is a great example. Something like 80 percent of all job applicants to Starbucks are already Starbucks customers. So what kind of business impact is there when someone who’s applying to Starbucks has a negative experience? When they start sharing that negative experience with their networks, and you start multiplying that by the hundreds of thousands of people who take that step to apply each year.

Many companies now are starting to realize there’s something to this, and we’ve got to start acting more holistically. A company brand, the employer brand and the personal brands of our employees—these are all somehow strongly connected. And we’ve got to start thinking about them in a holistic way, because any one of them can have a negative impact on the other.

Ed: What’s the best way to promote an employer brand today?

Todd: Don’t fake it. Again, there’s been a huge change in the way companies market in the past five years. Instead of “pushing” a message out to the marketplace, you’re actually drawing people in through genuine exchanges. You’re not trying to shove a sales message down people’s throats. You’re trying to basically just talk about and help people solve their challenges. Rather than thinking, “Gee, what does our audience want to hear, and let’s give them that,” with employer branding, you’ve really got to start by looking within.

Put aside the external perception of what your employer brand is for the moment, and really focus on what the internal reality or culture of working for the organization is.

Ed: What if it stinks at the moment? How do you deal with a crummy culture on route to developing a better one?

Todd: People love stories of challenge and change. Companies are typically really bad at telling stories. A good story involves challenges and overcoming obstacles and mistakes. Companies don’t like to talk about mistakes. But if you try to tell a story that’s too removed from reality, you’re going to get found out. In this environment, that’s just not a sustainable way.

You need to lead with, “This is the reality now,” and paint a vision of the future: “This is how we see it, and you are part of the new guard and we’re going to work together to steer this ship in a new direction.” It’s a way of telling a story that’s a reflection of the reality.

Ed: What’s the role of employee voices in the kind of employer brand you’re talking about?

Todd: If people are genuinely empowered and allowed to share their positive experience of working in an organization, that has a net loyalty impact on the employee, as well as ticking those boxes, if you will, of what the external market is looking for in terms of communication these days. That is to say, genuine, lower-level employees telling true stories.

It helps to attract like-minded people to an organization. People who are more likely to fit in. Recruiters spend so much of their day just wading through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of applicants for a job, many of which are totally inappropriate. It’s a bad experience for everyone, and a huge time waste for recruiters.

Ed: You’re suggesting a high level of transparency.

Todd: Tell the stories. If you have a culture where you have Friday night drinks every week, that would be fantastic or an absolute deal breaker, depending on the candidate looking at it. Am I going to have to work late, do an all-nighter because a project comes in on a Tuesday that no one was expecting? Tell that stuff.  Historically, no one wants to tell that story. We think it is better to get the applicants than not to get the applicants.

But what the “culture branding” mindset leads to is that you can have the most impact by helping people deselect in the first place. So rather than having 100 applicants for a job why not have 10 who actually could be a good culture fit.

(About the Author: Ed Frauenheim is editor at workplace research site Great Rated!™, where he produces content and reviews companies.)


(About Todd Wheatland: Todd Wheatland is head of strategy at King Content, a content marketing agency in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to this role, he spent eight years as global head of thought leadership for Kelly Services. Todd has been recognized as one of top 25 Social Media Experts by LinkedIn, a top 50 Social Media Expert by Stryde, and as one of the 15 B2B Chief Marketing Officers to Watch by FierceCMO. This year alone, Todd plans to speak at events in more than 10 countries around the globe. His new book is The Marketer’s Guide to SlideShare (



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