Few people have risen as high in the corporate world as Angleton, Texas, native John D. Rainey, BBA ’93, MBA ’95, who became PayPal’s chief financial officer in 2015 and added the executive vice president title in 2016.
Rainey, 46, who serves on the Baylor Leadership Council and is a member of the Endowed Scholarship Society, returned to campus this spring to offer advice to the Hankamer School of Business graduating seniors.
“As a senior, I had these ideas about what it would take to be successful, and when I reflect on my career, I recognize that there are a number of people who could be in my job,” he said. “What I think that I’ve done differently is really focus on how to do my job and how to do it right. Coming from Baylor, that’s one thing our students have as an advantage. Baylor emphasizes that.
“In today’s society, we so often measure success in job titles or how much money you make,” he continued. “I want our students to know that how you do it is as important as what you do. Having character and humility, authenticity and being genuine—the softer skills matter. We often talk about IQ versus EQ [emotional quotient]. It may be a tired subject, but it’s the EQ that really matters.”
Rainey’s career began with two years in management consulting for Ernst & Young in Houston. One of his clients was Continental Airlines, who offered him a job.
By 2012, he had risen through the ranks all the way to CFO and EVP of United Continental Holdings, headquartered in Chicago. Along the way, Rainey gained extensive experience in corporate finance, treasury, financial planning and analysis, tax, investor relations, strategic planning and risk management. United and Continental merged in 2010, forming one of the world’s largest airlines.
In summer 2015, PayPal was split off from eBay into a separate company. PayPal recruited Rainey to man its CFO post, and he exchanged one leadership position at an enormous worldwide company for another.
“They’re both heavily regulated industries, very competitive businesses,” Rainey said. “However, the airline industry is a very capital intensive business, but the appeal of software is you can grow with very little marginal cost. The transition taught me that maybe I had become a little bit comfortable in my career, and I might even say that I was averse to change. The opportunity at PayPal has been fantastic. It’s reinforced to me not to be afraid to try new things.”
PayPal needed a battle-tested CFO like Rainey with experience in the investor community because it was establishing an identity.
“That has been the most rewarding part for me, because PayPal is a hard company to understand; no other single competitor does everything that PayPal does,” he said. “A lot of people think of PayPal as just a button on a website, but we own [popular payment app] Venmo, we do consumer and merchant lending and peer-to-peer payments, we handle international remittances so people can send money back home to loved ones, and we process payments for companies like Airbnb and Uber.”
A challenge for PayPal has been the transition from operating like a startup company to one that has profitable growth instead of growth in general.
While PayPal has been growing for more than two decades and has been profitable, Rainey said it hadn't had to focus on things more established companies do, such as cost management or execution in pricing. PayPal has formed strategic partnerships with companies like VISA, which is a more costly approach; however, Rainey said it pays off because volume of transactions is important.
“Global retail today is $25 trillion, and e-commerce is about 10 percent of that, or $2.5 trillion,” he said. “With a mobile device, the world of offline is moving online. If we’re going to capture an appreciable share of those transactions, we’ve got to put the customer first and create better experiences for them, so that’s the approach that we’re taking. We used to force our users into experiences that they didn’t want, when all they wanted to do was complete the shopping experience quickly.”
Rainey said the younger generation uses Venmo at a higher rate than PayPal.
“We’re going to have all the same experiences going forward with Venmo that we’ve had with PayPal, but the difference with Venmo is the option to have a social feed so people can see what you’re buying," he said. "From a merchant’s perspective, that’s invaluable because it’s similar to word-of-mouth recommendations, which strongly influences peer networks.”
Although Rainey thoroughly enjoys his work at PayPal’s headquarters in San Jose, California, he also makes time for other pursuits.
He serves on the March of Dimes National Board of Trustees and was the 2015 national chair of the March for Babies walk. He also serves on the CNBC Global Chief Financial Officer Council.
Rainey’s ranch in the Hill Country beckons him back to Texas. It is his favorite place to spend downtime with his family.
“We try to get back there as frequently as possible,” Rainey said. “It’s cathartic for me get on the tractor and work on the ranch doing things so different than my day job. I love it.”