First Data CEO Jon Judge to retire early for health reasons

First Data CEO Jon Judge joined the company in 2010.

Atlanta-based First Data, with 5,000 employees in Omaha, will announce a new chief executive officer by March 31 following CEO Jon Judge's recent announcement that he will retire early for health reasons.

Judge joined electronic payment processor First Data in 2010 after serving six years as president and CEO of Paychex Inc. He will stay in his position through a transition to a new executive. The company did not specify Judge's health concerns.

“While my plans didn't anticipate such an early retirement, those plans needed to be changed for the benefit of my health,” Judge said in a statement Jan. 11. “The directors have been very understanding and very gracious in their accommodation.”

Board chairman Joe Forehand called Judge a great leader. He noted that over the past eight quarters, the company saw growth in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

The company has reported net losses, however; the quarter ending Sept. 30 saw net losses of $212 million compared to losses of $53.9 million in the same quarter in 2011. Overall revenue declined to $2.67 billion, compared with $2.73 billion.

First Data will report its 2012 financial results Jan. 29.

“We've made great progress in bringing new, innovative products to market and we are a leader in the ongoing changes impacting the payments industry,” Forehand said. “We will miss Jon's leadership and wish him well in his recovery.”

Omaha is home to one of First Data's global data centers, and has multiple office locations, including at the Aksarben campus at 69th and Pacific Streets.

Payments industry consultant Kurt Strawhecker, formerly of First Data, said Judge is respected and liked as a leader. The president of the Strawhecker Group in Omaha said employment levels, often up and down in the industry, have been more stable in Omaha under Judge's leadership.

Going forward, he said, the firm will have to grow more aggressively in international markets, as well as be “more quick on its feet” when competing with new players in the rapidly changing merchant acquisition business.

Payment industry magazine Digital Transactions said Judge's retirement “casts a cloud of uncertainty” over the firm as it prepares for a possible initial public offering. The company was taken private by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in 2007 in a leveraged buyout that left First Data with a large debt burden, now about $22.5 billion. Judge told the magazine in September that the debt is not unmanageable and that First Data is “on a path to an IPO.”

Judge's 2012 base salary was $1.5 million, according to documents filed with the SEC. He will continue to receive his salary for two years plus receive bonuses, a total of $7.5 million over 24 months.

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