What do the baseball diamond and the merchant services industry have in common?
More than you might imagine, according to MerchantPro Express CEO Chris Briller.
He may have traded in his bat and cleats for a suit and tie when he transitioned from professional baseball player to CEO of credit card processing company MerchantPro Express (MPX), but much of what Chris learned throughout his athletic career still rang true when he decided it was time to build something of his own.
Chris’ professional baseball career began after his graduation from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), when he was signed to the Canton Crocodiles of the independent Frontier League. Following three productive seasons—two spent on teams within the Northern League—he felt it was time to move on. So, Chris took a position he thought might make for a smooth transition, working for a company that organized sports memorabilia auctions.
“I knew it wasn't a long-term career option,” he explains.
Even though his position was sports-related and the memorabilia felt familiar, its connection to the game seemed somehow superficial. The business itself lacked the very qualities he so valued in sports, he recalls.
Auctioning baseball cards and team jerseys simply couldn’t replace the thrill of competition, the drive to reach goals, and the need to practice to get better. It was his craving for these attributes that guided him to sales.
“The harder you work, the more you got out of athletics and usually the better you perform, and there's a strong correlation to that with sales,” he says.
So when Chris got the opportunity to become a sales executive at credit processing company First Data, he seized it. There, he embraced the competitive nature of sales and continuously tried to improve his skills, as if he was practicing baseball. In time, he learned the merchant services business and eventually rose to a management position, where he built his contacts. After a brief period at a competing company, TransFirst, he began to feel that familiar urge once again to put more in and get more out.
Chris had his own vision of how a merchant services business should be operated. So, in 2009, he left TransFirst and gathered investors to build MerchantPro Express.
While MPX would eventually grow to become the successful company it is today, with multiple divisions, clients across the country, and a team of more than 500 employees, the journey wasn't so easy in the beginning.
“The stress was overwhelming,” he explains. “It just wears on you and you have to have the ability to handle stress on a high level.”
Yet once again, Chris drew upon his experiences in sports to overcome each obstacle thrown his way.
“My head coach in college would always say that mental toughness is the ability to handle adversity,” he shares.
Having taken his coach’s advice to heart even after he left the game, Chris continued to work hard and build his company. Today, he spends his days overseeing operations, managing financial and commission reporting, attracting new sales agents to the company, and developing relationships that lead to revenue for MPX, never letting the stress get the better of him.
Chris says learning the importance of having a team you can depend on might be the most critical lesson from his time as an athlete.
Explaining that one of the keys to success is “surrounding yourself with successful people,” he further notes that he has been very fortunate to have a great team surrounding him, such as Chief Operating Officer Sean O’Neil and everyone else at MPX—without whom, the success of the company would be impossible.
So even though leaving baseball behind wasn't the easiest choice, Chris couldn't be happier with his transition. And despite sometimes missing the game, he feels blessed to have successfully applied its many lessons toward achieving his own vision and acquiring his own winning team.