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Fiserv’s first acquisition led Sprague down leadership path

Charles W. Sprague

Charles W. Sprague

Brookfield-based Fiserv Inc. serves 99 of the top 100 banks in the U.S.; it processes 76 percent of the online bill payments in the U.S.; and it serves four out of every 10 online banking customers in the U.S.

In other words, chances are, Fiserv, a global provider of information management and electronic commerce systems for the financial services industry, has served you.

It’s a source of great pride to Charles W. Sprague, Fiserv’s executive vice-president, general counsel and secretary.

“I was outside counsel to Fiserv from the time it was established in 1984 by combining a Milwaukee-based bank data processing business with a Tampa-based bank data processing business,” said Sprague. “I assisted with Fiserv’s first acquisition, and with every acquisition since then.”

There have been more than 150 acquisitions, by the way, which have helped build Fiserv into a $4.1 billion, publicly-traded Fortune 500 Company.

“The biggest by far was CheckFree in 2007, and before that Bill Matrix in 2005 and ITI in 1995,” said Sprague. “‘Biggest,’ though, is a relative term, as there have been others that were smaller in size but perhaps more transformative because of the new markets they introduced us into, or for other reasons — for example, I think of First Trust in 1985, or CIR in 1991 or Basis in 1993.”

Sprague came in-house to start Fiserv’s legal department in 1993. At that time Fiserv had about 4,500 employees; now there are approximately 20,000. He was the only in-house counsel for about six months before he hired the second lawyer. Today the Legal Department has 24 lawyers and consists of more than 50 people, including contract administrators, paralegals and other professional support staff.

Beyond mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, Sprague and his department are also responsible for commercial contracts, vendor negotiations, employment matters, intellectual property, litigation and government compliance.

His favorite part of the job is “seeing young lawyers grow and develop skills, confidence, judgment, independence and standing as effective corporate attorneys.

“I also enjoy seeing non-lawyer professionals in the Legal Department develop and use skills to take charge of challenging problems and become strong professionals in their own right — placing experienced lawyers into increasingly challenging assignments, watching them succeed and helping the company succeed.”

When he’s not on the job, Sprague can be found driving his red 1960 MGA, weather permitting, or reading history, politics and classic novels, mostly late 19th and early 20th century British literature. He’s also a fan of just about every major Wisconsin college or professional sports team.

Employer: Fiserv Inc., executive vice-president, general counsel and secretaryEducation: J.D., M.B.A., New York University, 1975

Professional affiliations: Association of Corporate Counsel; Wisconsin General Counsel Forum

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