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Innovation drives evolution at MSTS

By Leslie Collins  – Reporter, Kansas City Business Journal | October 4, 2018

MSTS’ culture of reinvention is evidenced in its growth. The Overland Park company now has 558 total employees, and its revenue doubled during the past four years. In the second quarter, revenue rose 30 percent.

"It’s unusual for a 40-year-old business to have successfully navigated the multitude of technological shifts and survive," MSTS CEO Brandon Spear said. When the company launched in 1978, the internet didn’t exist, and neither did personal computers. It began as a fuel card provider for fleet owners, helping them shift away from cash and find a more efficient system for tracking fuel use among drivers. At the time, it was a novel offering. MSTS also developed the first live electronic authorization of a credit card from a truck stop.

Now, MSTS is a global provider of B2B payment and credit solutions for the transportation, airline, retail and manufacturing industries.

“There’s always been a culture of innovation,” said Senior Vice President Martha Salinas, who started at MSTS 20 years ago. “I think we’ve been able to adapt because the company also has a very in-depth belief that you innovate by solving problems, by deeply listening to your customers’ needs.” Its latest offering, credit-as-a-service, aims to fill a gap for small to midsize players that sell a B2B product or service. Their relationships with customers traditionally have relied on cash on delivery or payment via credit cards. But letting companies use credit cards to pay doesn’t build brand loyalty and can complicate tracking purchase orders and invoicing, Spear said. Credit-as-a-service offers payment flexibility, helps clients go after bigger customers and drives repeat business. “In essence, the common thread is it’s all about finding a problem in an industry and then figuring out how we can bring the technical and process capabilities we have to bear to solve a problem for that industry,” Spear said.

Picking an opportunity

Identifying the next opportunity to pursue is a mixture of science and art, said Spear, who paraphrased Henry Ford: “If I only listened to customers, we’d still only be riding horses today.’” They must balance listening to customer feedback, staying abreast of market trends and identifying pain points in an industry where MSTS can leverage its expertise to offer a solution.

MSTS doesn’t always get it right – that’s why it keeps a couple of irons in the fire to mitigate risk, he said. Part of innovating also is knowing your strengths. Last year, the leadership team defined the company’s four core competencies, which now serve as its North Star.

“When you think about where you want to expend your energy and invest, it needs to be in competencies that make you unique,” Spear said. “If it doesn’t leverage those core competencies, then it’s not something we should be doing.”

Fostering an innovative culture

MSTS leadership doesn’t shy from frank conversations on difficult topics, and they don’t take it personally if their idea isn’t picked. It’s a concerted effort to have open communication, which in turn fosters innovation, Salinas said. Leadership, for example, took personality assessments to more effectively communicate with one another, and they underwent an extensive review process, garnering feedback from employees, peers and managers to identify their strengths and weaknesses. A focus on continuing education and bringing in leadership training coaches to empower employees also fosters innovation. Just as the MSTS executive team needs to grow, so do employees, Salinas said. MSTS hosts hackathons and biannual town halls to keep employees updated on key initiatives. “Like anything that’s related to change, you live and die on how successful you are in communicating and having everyone understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you’re going to execute it,” Spear said.

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