It’s hard to think of any CEO better qualified to offer guidance on how to navigate the pandemic economy, and prepare to sprint in the recovery, than Frank Bisignano. The newly named CEO of Fiserv, the fintech and payments processing giant, made his mark steering businesses through the most jarring upheavals of the past two decades. And in between the cataclysms, he was busy clinching deals while enduring chemotherapy and reviving laggards that looked too broken to be fixed.
Bisignano fought on the front lines through 9/11, the Great Recession, and the pandemic, and faced three other daunting challenges: battling throat cancer; rescuing a failing backwater at Citigroup that he transformed into one of the bank’s top money-spinners; and reviving a struggling also-ran, the payments processor First Data. After the first tower fell on Sept. 11, 2011, Bisignano led a parade of Citigroup troops located near the World Trade Center to safety in Midtown Manhattan. During the financial crisis, he worked alongside his mentor Jamie Dimon to salvage the wreckage of Bear Stearns, then waded into the mortgage flood by spearheading damage control on the subprime-laden portfolio inherited from Washington Mutual.
Last July, he sold a thoroughly reinvented First Data, to Fiserv for $30 billion, delivering shareholders a 100% return from the IPO price three and a half years earlier. On April 8, the Fiserv board named Bisignano, now 60, to succeed longtime CEO Jeff Yabuki. On July 1, Bisignano will take charge at this relatively little-publicized colossus that’s produced 20%-plus annual shareholder returns over the past decade and now boasts a market cap of $66.5 billion, the 16th-highest among U.S. financial services and data processing companies, exceeding Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and American Express.
In a series of interviews with Fortune, Bisignano discussed how his experience in tackling past crises shaped Fiserv’s strategy for minimizing damage from the pandemic, while at the same time keeping the people and investments in place to thrive on the other side. Among the measures he’s deploying: providing extra hazard pay for frontline workers, and marshaling the top brass to put all or a big chunk of their cash comp into a fund for the hardest-hit employees.