Meet the Masters: Sam Halse

Sam Halse, Chief Operating Officer at Adyen, won the Excellence in General Management trophy at the 2017 Digital Masters Awards. We caught up with Sam to discuss Adyen’s continued success, the future of payments, and hiring top talent.


Adyen’s transaction volume has doubled for the third year in a row, to $90 billion in 2016. What do you think has been key to sustaining this growth?

The continuous innovation on our platform, our focus on listening to what our customers want, and ultimately providing a fantastic customer experience has been key to our growth. We’re now seeing real growth in our next big area of focus: the Unified Commerce payment experience, where there is a real need for innovation and tying all sales channels together to provide an amazing shopper experience.

In the past year, Adyen expanded their POS solution to over 2,700 stores across the US and Europe, what challenges did you face in moving into the physical world and how did you overcome them?

The physical space is typically more traditional and overwhelmed by legacy systems. Many of our customers like Bonobos and Tory Burch are focused on providing their customers with new ways to shop in brick-and-mortar retail stores, relying on Adyen to help them provide a Unified Commerce experience for their shoppers. When moving into a physical space, there are many hurdles to overcome that you don’t face in the online space, such as shipping terminals to stores, and making sure there’s enough support for in-store staff. We use internet technology to simplify many processes for example we can remotely install software updates across all stores once terminals are installed.

Adyen are now a team of 600 people worldwide; how do you retain a great company culture as you scale?

We work with something we call the ‘Adyen formula’, which consists of seven key values that we are always referring to, no matter where you are in the world. Examples of these are “we don’t hide behind email” and “we talk straight without being rude”. One of our board members also interviews every new hire, to ensure that they fit into our company culture. This hands-on approach from all levels of the organisation makes sure we grow sustainably. We also offer exchange programs to our 14 global offices and ensure that senior leaders are travelling to our international offices with the focus on sharing the culture we have created.

What’s next for Adyen? What opportunities do you see in the payments ecosystem and how do you fend off competition from the likes of Stripe and iZettle?

We’re not done yet. We are continuously investing in the extension of our global network and product, with growth areas such as our Unified Commerce payment experience and a real focus on large global marketplaces. We see a real opportunity to take all the payments friction out for customers, so they can grow globally, across channels, and gain full control over their payments. We recently received a European banking licence meaning we can provide even better service levels to our customers and removing the need for relying on banking partners exclusively. This is a part of our continuous journey to remove friction from the payment process.

As a B2B business, how does Adyen attract and retain top talent?

Giving people a platform to take initiative and ownership. We want everyone to challenge, ask questions and make an impact. This freedom to make an impact from day one is something that gives many of our employees a chance to make a true difference and improve how we operate as a business, and push us to be better. This environment of empowerment allows us to attract and retain top talent.

What qualities do you most prize in a potential hire?

We look for very intelligent people who will fit within the culture we have created at Adyen. We are not hung up on the number of years of experience someone has or more traditional hiring mechanisms – we are really looking for people who are going to have an impact on continuing to grow our business. We run people through the aeroplane test where we ask ourselves whether we believe we could spend 12 hours sitting next to this person on an aeroplane. Having a reasonably dry sense of humour is also something of a pre-requisite to working here.

What is your career highlight to date?

Getting to work with such an amazing group of people at Adyen and to have taken the business to where we have today is a huge highlight. At the same time I know we have a long way to go….

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing instead?

Being a failed sports journalist and dreaming of playing for the All Blacks – the national rugby team of New Zealand.