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McClatchy-Tribune  06/19/2014 9:11 AM ET
Ex-rugb player brings team spirit to Monitise [Daily Mail, London :: ]

June 19--Two heads, Alastair Lukies believes, are better than one, which is why the founder of mobile banking company Monitise recently hired a co-chief executive to run the business alongside him, to gasps of surprise from the City.

Not only is it unorthodox for anyone at the top of a company to go in for power-sharing, but it is doubly so for a male boss to concede his sole supremacy to an older woman in this case, California-based Elizabeth Buse, 53, a veteran of the Visa payment card organisation.

Many see joint chief executives as a recipe for ego-clashes, turf wars and confusion over who is really in charge.

Perhaps Lukies' past life as a rugby player for Saracens and London Irish, has instilled him with more team spirit than the average boardroom baron, but he is adamant the arrangement will work.

'Having a joint CEO was 100pc my idea. You have to know what you are good at, and what you are not. I learned humility on the rugby field.

'I wanted to be the really good-looking guy who scored all the tries, but I was the ugly one on the front row.

'Elizabeth has a lot more experience than me at running a big company, and we need that.'

Lukies, who has just been awarded a CBE for services to charity and mobile banking, adds: 'I am not the sharpest tool in the box. People say to me, "Al, don't be ridiculous, you have built a $2bn company." But that is because I have surrounded myself with amazing people.'

City analysts reckon Buse (pictured below) will give confidence to investors that Monitise can implement its growth plans.

That is important, because the AIM-listed company, which Lukies set up in 2003, is big on ideas for the potential of mobile commerce, but so far remains short on profits. It is likely to remain loss-making until next year or the year after.

'As a loss-making tech company, we get tons of criticism,' says Lukies.

'But do we have assets that are valuable? Yes we do. Do we have revenue that is strong and growing very fast? Absolutely. Do we have partnerships? Yes we do.'

The largest shareholder is a US fund, Omega Partners, with 12pc. Norges, the Norwegian bank, has a stake, along with Visa, MasterCard and UK fund manager Invesco.

Monitise, Lukies says, 'is in the business of selling picks and shovels to the gold rush'. Its technology enables banks, telecoms providers and stores to offer mobile banking and payments to their customers.

Clients include banks such as HSBC and mobile phone companies such as Vodafone.

He wants to expand in emerging markets, where there are no bank branch networks, and sees opportunities for shoppers to buy goods simply by pointing their phone at them.

Stores could use the technology to ping special offers to a mobile when a customer walks by their shop.

Then there are the marketing possibilities that could be opened up through the huge amount of data companies can glean on people's spending habits. 'I don't know what mobile shopping will be like, just like no one predicted Amazon,' says Lukies. 'More than 90pc of 11 year olds have a mobile phone, so if your bank hasn't got a good mobile banking app, forget it.'

What about security fears?

'Mobile is inherently much more secure than the internet. We have chip and pin, it is all encrypted, like the Enigma machine.'

I can't help pointing out perhaps that is not the best analogy, as the boffins of Bletchley Park famously cracked the Enigma code.

'Well, nothing's uncrackable. When bank cards first came out people didn't want to use the ATM. The next generation are not going to think about it.'

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