Down East 2013 ©
By Sara Anne Donnelly Photographed by Nathan Eldridge
Financial Activities employ 30,789 people, including accountants, bill collectors and bank tellers. Nearly half of these jobs provide administrative financial support.
In a corner office at WEX in South Portland, there hangs a photograph of Michael Dubyak and his wife, Denise, arm and arm in Peru’s Urubamba Valley, a place so lush it looks like it was rendered in Technicolor. Behind them looms the peak of Huayna Picchu and the jagged ridge that houses the Inca settlement, Machu Picchu. Dubyak, still tan from this adventure despite the month’s winter pallor, says that he and Denise travel the world after adventures like this one — a fifty-mile hike through Patagonia is planned for later this year — but Maine is where he finds “nirvana.”
As chairman, president, and chief executive officer of WEX, Maine’s second largest publicly traded company (NYSE: WXS), Dubyak has directed the payment-processing firm to expand at a dizzying pace. Since going public in 2005, the company has purchased payment firms in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, England, Oregon, and Tennessee. In turn, WEX, formerly known as Wright Express, has more than doubled its employment rolls, to 1,300 people, and more than tripled its annual revenue, to $553 million last year. Because of this success, in 2011 Ernst & Young named Dubyak the New England Entrepreneur of the Year in financial services.
But Maine isn’t all nirvana. Dubyak says a chronic skills gap makes it tough for WEX to fill all of its Maine positions. The shortfall is most acute in WEX’s information technology department, where every year the company imports as many as one hundred contractors from around the globe because it can’t find enough qualified local candidates.
Nationwide, chronic vacancies like those at WEX have been blamed on a skills gap, a wage gap, a communication gap. Here in Maine, the gap is particularly noteworthy in IT: A recent report commissioned by Southern Maine Community College found the discrepancy between the small number of Maine computer science graduates and the available jobs means the sector will be among those with the most severe shortages in coming years. That’s a concern for a financial services firm banking on a global, high-tech future.
Dubyak doesn’t mind a tough hike, and that may come in handy as he takes a macro look at his staffing problem. He’s agreed to chair a new nonprofit called Educate Maine, a collaboration of local business executives and educators who intend to better link education to the marketplace by revising statewide K-16 curricula in science, technology, engineering, and math, and by creating incentives to double the number of technologists graduating from state universities from around 80 to 160 in just four years. Dubyak believes dramatic changes like these could make other tech-based businesses notice Maine.
“I was committed to this state because I fell in love with it,” Dubyak says, flashing a boyish grin. “And so I want WEX to succeed in the state.”