A Discussion With Monica Eaton-Cardone

CEO Connect

Monica Eaton-Cardone is an international entrepreneur, speaker, author and industry thought leader. With a career spanning multiple industries and many companies, most of her own making, she ended up making a name for herself in Agile (project management) technologies with a dispute mitigation and loss prevention firm. 

Specifically, she targets chargebacks and chargeback fraud—the $300 billion scourge of online transactions—for clients in 87 countries worldwide. To date, she has helped clients recover more than $1 billion in disputed revenue.

Bridgette Bello, the CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business & Wealth, interviewed Eaton-Cardone in front of an invitation-only audience at the Centre Club in Tampa. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Since we met, you have won a pretty amazing award: Global Leader of the Year, beating people from Visa and HSBC. Can you talk about that?

I know. It’s uncanny. I wasn’t even at the award banquet, because I thought I wasn’t going to win. I had two other people go and they called me at 10 p.m., and they’re like, “You won!” Seriously, this was my reaction: “OK, that’s a really good joke, but I’m tired. I’ll talk to you in the morning,” and I hung up. They called back and were like, “Seriously, you won!”

Who gave you that award?

It was Women in IT Awards in London. I have such gratitude. You always just stay focused and then to have someone recognize that, especially from afar … . I’ve never seen myself as competing with the HSBC’s of the world, or the Visas, but I’ll take it.

Since we did the interview, you’ve purchased a company in Atlanta.

We have been busy. It seems like I have Mastercard, American Express and Visa on my payroll, [but] all of the changes they’re making is just sending us more business.

As a result, we’ve had to confront how we are going to be scaling and making our service even better. We service merchants, retailers, online e-commerce as well as issuers. A card issuer is a bank that issues credit cards and banks that provide merchant accounts. The whole gambit.

We’ve seen the industry continue to change and morph, with all these changes, it’s been very exciting for us. In the last year we started looking at different companies and technologies that we could use to increase our value proposition. We found several, but ended up with one great one, and just closed the transaction in February. We inherited about 50 employees, a lot of great technology, and we’re super excited about our next level.

I’m going to put you on the spot because you talked about it in your interview. Are you moving those employees here?

They are already here. One of the things about Tampa Bay is that you can have such a high quality of life and the cost of living is low, plus no income tax — you really can’t beat the area.

I love how you call it Tampa, but you’re really talking about Clearwater.

In fairness it is actually Tampa Bay, St. Pete. Our office is off U.S. [Highway] 19. It’s close to Westshore [in Tampa], close to St. Petersburg, kind of central, so we really have to sell the whole area.

And the Tampa airport does help us a lot. It’s the best airport.

We’re lucky to have TIA. It’s pretty amazing.

Welcome to your new paradise and your new home.

Your childhood and upbringing were interesting. How did those affect you now, and how do you incorporate that into your business life?

My mother is actually here [in the audience]. It’s the first time she has been able to come to an event. I always forget to tell her … and we were talking about things that are going on in my life, and she said, “It’s so fascinating. You were such a difficult child.” [Laughter]

She told me I was always obsessed with being a perfectionist. I was intense, eccentric, kind of a loner, difficult and wanted to control everything.

She said, “It’s really amazing you’ve turned that into something that works for you.”

I didn’t have an easy childhood growing up. We moved a lot. Like every single year. Not the most stable environment. But understanding it’s always a two-way street, I probably didn’t make it very easy for my parents, either.

As I’ve grown, I’ve realized all of those lessons helped me create strengths around those weaknesses and build on them. There’s not a single C-level executive or manager or any individual today that doesn’t sometimes need to be a perfectionist, need to be a control freak, need to be eccentric or intense and really draw that raw energy to be able to make it through the day. Thankfully, I have plenty of it and I have needed it in my career so far.

Before you were even 20 years old, you had started and sold a furniture design and sales business. How was it, being a young woman in business during that time?

Here’s a funny story: When I was 17, I worked at this design store. I thought I was talented, I knew how to talk to people, I studied my industry, I knew I was the best person to help customers. I took this job so serious. I overheard one of the customers tell my boss one day, “You know, I don’t want to work with her because she’s too young.” Thereafter, I decided from now on, I’m 25.

The next job I got, I lied about being older. I actually got a few paychecks, and nobody caught it. Then they were like, something is wrong with your Social Security number. A year later, I had to fess up. But by then, I had created a good reputation, and thankfully, I kept my job.

I thought my biggest weakness was my age and the fact that I was a woman. Which it shouldn’t even enter into my mind. It’s not that I received prejudice for being a woman, but I definitely did on my age.

The business that I sold when I was 19 was called Resort Furnishings. I found out that there was this market for designing and buying furniture from Mexico, importing it and  then furnishing all of these income properties for ski resorts. Realtors would add on, and finance, the whole furniture package. I would just add a profit to that and I would provide the whole thing.

That started to grow and I realized, now I really need to start buying furniture direct.

I went through all the research and figured out what I needed to do. But I realized when I called, and said, “Hi, I’m the owner,”  I wasn’t taken seriously so I decided, “I’m the owner’s assistant,” and that was very effective. In fact it was so effective I kept that strategy for probably 15 years.

I started doing business in India when I was 20, and I did business in Costa Rica around the same age, and there is a stigma there around women in business. In fact, to this day, I don’t have my own name even though I own everything there and have done business there for over 20 years. It is “Monica, daughter of Carl Eaton.” I can’t sign anything as just me, I have to be a daughter or a wife of. But you learn, and I would go into these business meetings and what is most important there? I don’t care about people giving me credit for what I’ve actually done.

I just want this deal, so what is it going to take to get this deal? I’m just going to say I’m here as an assistant and I will pour you all tea if you want, and after you’re done, let’s have a whiteboard discussion and maybe make eye contact. And things would turn around. To this day I have great relationships and all the respect I could possibly want in these countries.

I definitely have learned a lot through the years. ♦

ABOUT CEO CONNECT

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, monthly event that brings together many of the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. The sponsors of this month’s event were Source1 Solutions and the Centre Club.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by a live interview of well-known C-level executives who provide insight into their personal lives, careers and views on issues affecting the business community. The interview is conducted by Bridgette Bello, TBBW’s CEO and publisher.

Partnering with TBBW on this event provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected]

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