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Meet Square's Francoise Brougher, Jack Dorsey's New Secret Weapon

The former Googler ran a giant $15 billion-plus business there.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

In 2013, Twitter was the most-talked-about initial public offering in tech and media circles, thanks in part to its broad adoption in those industries as well as its cast of colorful co-founders, including Jack Dorsey.

This year, Dorsey’s other company is considering its own IPO: Square, the payments-industry startup whose sleek hardware and software enables business owners to accept credit and debit card purchases using smartphones and tablet computers.

Square’s growth to 700 employees since 2009 — not to mention 2013 revenue in excess of $500 million — is the result of unique products and services that have done the near impossible: Made point-of-sale payment systems fun and just a little bit sexy, while giving the guy selling t-shirts at the flea market an easy non-cash option for the very first time.

To get to the next level — making Square as indispensable to payments as Twitter is to communications — Dorsey is leaning on Francoise Brougher, a blunt-spoken former Google star with almost no profile outside of the search giant’s campus. Insiders say she was known for a rigorous data analysis approach to problem solving and a call-it-like-I-see-it style that rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. Dorsey poached her from Google to be Square’s business lead in April.

Among Brougher’s challenges: Dorsey is relying on her to build large customer bases of small businesses both inside and outside of the U.S.; to create a customer service operation that is responsive to the needs of these small businesses — wherever they are, in whatever language they speak; and to form the partnerships that bring big merchants other than Starbucks into the fold.

Brougher declined to be interviewed for this article, and a Square spokesman referred Re/code to Dorsey’s comments in the press release announcing her hire.

Although she has not received the media attention of other high-profile former Google execs Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, her impact on Google was as profound. And her background at Google hints at what’s to come at Square.

The former Booz-Allen consultant and one-time CEO of a black-pearl wholesale company joined the search giant in 2005 to run an internal squad of consultants known as the Biz Ops team: A few dozen people, most of whom have previously worked at the top handful of management consultant companies, often relied upon to work on crucial, months-long projects handed down from Google’s senior most executive team.

Among the most notable projects Brougher led was an analysis of Google’s engineering-investment allocation, which examined where Google was, and should be, assigning its coding talent. She created a team that led investments in green opportunities both inside and outside of Google, including a massive installation of solar panels at Google’s Mountain View, Calif. campus. Her deep analytics chops also guided her on a project with Google CFO Patrick Pichette, who had just been hired, to craft a company-wide budget in response to the recession of 2009.

“Google was growing so fast that a lot of budgeting processes that were basically well-oiled machines at other companies were still being formed at Google,” one former Biz Ops staff member told Re/code in an interview.

Since members of her team were working with several different Google departments at any given time, the role gave Brougher a deep understanding of Google’s vast group of businesses unrivaled by most of her peers, former colleagues say. It also gave her a high profile among Google’s leadership circle.

By late 2009, Google Chief Business Officer Nikesh Arora tapped Brougher for a new role to oversee the sales and customer-service operation for Google’s advertising business for small-business customers worldwide — a position similar to the one Sheryl Sandberg held before she departed for Facebook.

A little over two years later, Brougher added Google’s mid-tier ad business to her purview, giving her a portfolio of businesses that generated more than $15 billion in annual revenue. That’s more revenue than Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pulled down in 2012 — combined.

In her three-plus years in that Google role, Brougher brought a new level of data-driven rigor and decision-making to the SMB ad business. Her team’s deep analysis of customer spending helped them identify high-potential small business customers and allocate resources toward nurturing relationships with them.

Claire Hughes Johnson, a Google executive who led Google’s ad business for midsized advertisers when Brougher first oversaw only the advertising organization’s small-business unit, said Brougher’s data-driven approach helped create an organization that “turned into a machine.”

At Square, Brougher will be relied upon to turn the innovative company into a revenue and profits machine. In her first eight months on the job, she has already put her stamp on the company.

According to sources, she played a significant role in Square’s recent decision to discontinue its monthly pricing plan, an unusual pricing model that had launched to much fanfare in August, 2012, and create a custom pricing plan that would allow some growing small businesses to lower their transaction fee below Square’s standard rate of 2.75 percent.

People familiar with her thinking also expect Brougher to prioritize a transformation of Square’s customer service operation. To date, one of the most common complaints among Square customers has been the absence of a customer support phone line, with frustrated merchants being directed to an online help center, email or Twitter. Expect that to change soon.

A similar strategy carried out by Brougher helped Google expand its ad business and increase measured customer satisfaction among small businesses accustomed to dealing with real people, according to Allan Thygesen, a Google exec who took over half of Brougher’s duties when she left for Square.

As Square contemplates going public, a lot is riding on Dorsey’s bet that Brougher’s skills will play a big role in the company’s future financial success.

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