Fiserv's CEO Plans to Step Down in 2006

Since the company was formed 33 years ago, Leslie M. Muma has been at the helm at Fiserv here as one of the co-founders. Now, Mr. Muma has announced plans to retire as president and chief executive officer in June 2006.

"I've been here 33 years and it'll be 35 by the time I retire," said Mr. Muma. "It's been a great experience with a great company. I was one of the co-founders and we've grown from a pretty small company to a pretty sizeable company. At 62 years old, which is how old I'll be in '06, I think it's time for me to step away and turn the reins over to fresh, new, young leadership. I also want to retire with enough time to be healthy and strong to enjoy my retirement."

Nonetheless, the decision wasn't a easy one for the Fiserv vet to make. "It's a tough decision when you have given birth to a company and raised it and spent 60 hours a week on average running it, it's hard to step away but it's time," he noted. "Also, Fiserv moved to Milwaukee and my wife wants to be in Florida, which also played into my decision. However, I will have been CEO for eight years and COO ever since the company was formed. So, it's a lot of time in the lead chair."

In looking back on his time at Fiserv, Mr. Muma is most proud of the employees. "The most rewarding thing today is to know that there are 22,000 employees who work for us, make a good living, raising their families, and that's all possible because of what we've built here," he said. "Certainly the fact that we've grown so much is rewarding on a professional level, but the personal reward comes from what we've been able to do for the people."

In the next 20 months leading up to his retirement, Mr. Muma doesn't have any monumental changes planned at Fiserv, but also warns that he won't slip into the background either. "It's going to be the same old, same old," he reported. "I'm the CEO and I don't plan to be a lame-duck CEO. I'm a very active CEO. There's a lot of growing going on now at Fiserv.

"Our biggest growth is in the health area," he continued. "However, along with health, lending has been one of the hot areas for us. So, you're going to see us continue to grow the company both by acquisitions and organically like we have historically. Sometime over that two-year period we'll name the next CEO with a good period of overlap so I can get that person ready."

At present, the search for the new CEO is ongoing. "We have a committee of the board that will initially and hopefully only look inside," said Mr. Muma. "It's their intent to look inside Fiserv because we have excellent management. If at the end of the day they feel like they don't have a candidate or enough strong candidates they'll look outside, but that will be the second step and perhaps won't even happen. When that person is selected it will come down to a board decision. I will heavily influence the decision but the board will make the decision. From there it'll be my job to make sure that that person's feet are on the ground and he's ready to go."

Mr. Muma also plans to give up his seat on the board after retiring. "It's been my philosophy that when I step down I will also take myself off the board because I've always believed that there shouldn't be a situation where the old CEO is questioning the decisions of the new CEO," he noted. "If the board and the new CEO decide that I should stay around for a year or two I will, but that's not my intent unless they feel it's necessary for transition."

Norm Balthasar, Fiserv's senior executive vice president and chief operating officer, would be the logical choice to succeed Mr. Muma, but Mr. Balthasar has asked the board to remove his name from consideration for the CEO position as he is planning to retire himself in 2008. No one else has risen to the top of the list yet, but Mr. Muma believes that all the Fiserv group presidents would make a good candidate list.

"We need a strong leader who believes in the people," he said. "I certainly don't want anyone to manage in my style because everyone has their own style, but the people part of the business and valued relationships with our customers are two main attributes of a leader going forward. By the time I retire we'll be a 20-year-old public company, which is young and we certainly have room to continue to grow. To be able to come in and take this position within a company of our history is a great job. I'll leave it up to the new leader to decide how he takes it down that runway but there is certainly a lot of road to go. If I was 42 years old or even 52 years old I'd jump all over this job."

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