Since August 2005, Thomas Priore has been the Executive Chairman and founding member of Priority. Due to Priore’s strategic vision, Priority has emerged from a start-up to become the 13th largest merchant acquirer in the US and a provider of commercial payment solutions to major institutions.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
I usually start my day by working out early, after which I dive into my work. The nature of my day can vary significantly, ranging from focusing on technical aspects of our products and solutions to exploring various business opportunities alongside our teams. It’s a dynamic and fluid process.
Growing up in an immigrant family, I inherited a strong work ethic. My grandfather was a landscaper, and he used to tell me, “If you want to be successful, you work half a day.” He literally meant half a day. He worked 12 hours daily, emphasizing the importance of dedicating oneself fully to work and your family and using those waking hours to live productively. Work is not something separate from life, but rather it is a part of our lives. My work is an enjoyable and fulfilling experience that I embrace. I also believe in making time for my family and other things in my life that are fulfilling and important.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For Priority, we were motivated to create a modern, digital experience for merchants, so Priority was founded in 2005. Our experiences in payments, residential mortgage lending, investment banking, and finance helped us form the idea for Priority, as we recognized the potential of the emerging digital payments market and the needs of our prospective customers. We saw it as an opportunity to build an organization focused on the future of payments by combining technologies and electronic payments to work for all sizes of businesses and across various industries. Within a remarkably short period, the company experienced rapid growth and achieved positive cash flow.
The payments industry has evolved as technology evolves, and for Priority, that means our company continues to grow and develop too. So we’ve grown from a focus on small businesses to supporting businesses of all sizes today. Through our solutions, we help businesses improve efficiency and operations with the ability to complete payment transactions through a single digital and modern experience.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The evolution of where embedded finance takes modern commerce and Priority’s ability to play a significant role in this trend reaching more businesses excites me. It’s always exciting to see how mobile payments, digital invoicing, and automated payables propel advancements into the business world faster.
The pandemic accelerated some of these innovations, and more recently, we are seeing how newer innovations in the services offered by non-banks will shift the banking industry and how that might further change the economic landscape. If anything, newer payments and commerce applications have helped many businesses change the course of their success to get access to solutions and services reserved for much larger companies, and this helps them stay relevant and serve their customers better.
For Priority, we aim to stay in front of trends and have expanded our services to provide solutions for businesses of all sizes. Today, we proudly hold the position of one of the largest nonbank payments businesses in the United States. I attribute our understanding of trends and the future of payments to helping us secure this position.
We are enthusiastic about the future and look to the challenges we can solve for businesses as we enhance our offerings. Growth and expansion are a constant for our company, as we support a growing number of industries, such as construction and healthcare, with our latest ventures.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
A habit of mine that significantly enhances my productivity as an entrepreneur is having discipline. Even from a young age, I have been highly motivated and adhered to a routine that works for me. For instance, I am committed to working out every morning. This routine prepares me for the day ahead, both mentally and physically. It acts as a catalyst and enhances my perspective and resilience in what I encounter daily. Once I conquer my workout, I can tackle any challenging tasks that come my way, making the rest of my day more manageable. This habit has become integral to my life, influencing my personal and professional spheres.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would have gone and done my own thing sooner. I’d tell myself, just explore more before you have responsibilities where you feel as though you can’t fail.
Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you on?
One saying I like a lot and try to instill is that people don’t care how much you have to say until they know how much you care. If they think you care, they’ll listen to you and hear you out. Until then, it’s like, ‘Hey, you’re just talking at me.’ That’s been an important trait to instill in our employees at Priority: Care about the people you work with, the customers you serve, and success will follow.
The other trait I strive to instill in our employees is to have organizational grit. Realize that you may disagree with people, but listen to each other and work through it. There are things we’re going to fail at or that will not go smoothly, and we just have to keep at it and not give up. That is the engine of greatness, really being gritty. You can solve many problems and help many people with grit and determination.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
Dedicating time to activities that bring a sense of centeredness is essential, particularly as a leader. Whether you are an entrepreneur or hold a leadership position within a company, cultivating a leadership mindset requires preparation. As I shared earlier, my workout routine is important to me, and it is the key time I set aside to find my center and set my intentions for each day. It makes me feel good — physically and mentally prepared for each day and the challenges ahead.
Each individual may have a unique practice that brings them a sense of centeredness, whether that is meditation, reading, yoga, or any other activity that resonates with them. The crucial point is to identify that personal anchor. As leaders, we must prioritize self-care and find that thing that helps us maintain balance and clarity amid our work demands.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
One strategy that has significantly contributed to my business’s growth is how we’ve embraced digital innovations to serve our customers, specifically through embedded finance and unified commerce. These transformative technologies have the power to unlock a multitude of value-added benefits for businesses. Unified commerce is where platforms connect all stakeholders and their back-end and front-end processes. It is aided or enabled by embedded payments to allow businesses to collect, store, and send money in one engine.
Embedded finance, in particular, has emerged as a game changer, allowing businesses to integrate financial services seamlessly into their existing platforms or services. As we have designed it for our clients, this integration enhances customer experiences, improves real-time cash flow management, and simplifies processes and payments transactions. By incorporating embedded finance solutions, businesses can provide a comprehensive and streamlined financial ecosystem for their customers, ultimately fostering loyalty and driving growth.
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
While this isn’t necessarily a failure, I’ll share a lesson I have learned and formed from my experiences. I would advise other entrepreneurs to work with people they like and are as committed as you are to your vision, and you’ll largely figure it out. As a leader, you have to surround yourself with people who will help carry out your company’s mission, vision, and values on your leadership team. Those leaders should feel empowered to employ people that can help see through strategy and execute towards success. If you walked around our office buildings or listened to our internal meetings at Priority, you could tell that people respect one another and like working together. I think that one of the reasons they are motivated to work hard is because of a strong sense of team camaraderie and pride that we foster across our organization.
What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I think it’s the same one everyone else uses: their mobile phone. It’s a handheld computer. So, I don’t know that I would stand out in that regard. Nothing I would point to other than it allows you to stay connected to all the important things.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast you’ve gotten a ton of value from and why?
A book that I have found particularly meaningful is Grit by Angela Duckworth. I appreciate this book’s synthesis of past research on the power of mindset and its influence on behavior and interpretation. Duckworth skillfully incorporates the work of other researchers into her own, providing a comprehensive understanding of how your mindset and focus on a goal, not talent or luck, can help you succeed. She defines grit as a special blend of passion and perseverance and says it is the hallmark of high achievement.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.