Featured Profiles

Democratizing The Financial System

As President and CEO of PayPal, Dan Schulman is focused on democratizing and transforming financial services and e-commerce to improve the financial health of billions of people, families and businesses around the world. With extensive experience in payments and mobile technology, Dan is leading PayPal to reimagine how people move and manage money and how merchants and consumers interact and transact. Dan has also been recognized as one of Fortune’s top 20 Businesspersons of the Year, one of Glassdoor’s Top 50 CEOs, and a Ripple of Hope laureate by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization. In 2021, Dan was ranked third on Fortune’s list of the World’s Greatest Leaders, an honour that recognized individuals for their leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Dan Schulman was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in Princeton with his tight-knit family. Talking about his most significant influences in life, he says, “I am a product probably of three things. Firstly, my parents significantly impacted me, and their advice and counsel was always to be yourself. The second thing is that I have done martial arts almost my entire life, and that’s taught me not just fighting skills but living skills, and it’s been an essential part of how I think about both living in general and work, and it informed my philosophy there. And then the third thing is, I learned a lot working with Richard Branson. He deeply influenced me, and we spoke a lot about the philosophy that business needs to be a force for good, which informed much of my thinking as a business leader.” These guiding values have led Dan to become a successful leader while paving the way for good in the world. 

Dan received his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Middlebury College and an MBA from New York University Stern School of Business. He began his career at the world’s largest telecommunications company,  AT&T, where he worked for more than eighteen years. With his hard work and perseverance, he slowly climbed the ranks and became the youngest member of the company’s senior executive team. Dan says, “But then, to my parent’s chagrin, because they thought that AT&T was the best job in the world, with this big office that had a bathroom in it, and they couldn’t imagine anything more than that their son could do. But I left to join an internet startup, which befuddled them.”

Dan then started at an entry-level account management position; after AT&T, where he was the President of a $22 billion consumer long-distance business, managing approximately 40,000 employees. However, he soon became the President, COO, and then CEO of Priceline.com. During his two-year stint, the company’s annual revenues grew from $20 million to about $1 billion with his brilliant strategy and implementation.

This job also led him to meet Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group and well-known philanthropist, for the first time. Dan says, “I had been working for Priceline, so we had started working with Virgin Airlines. When Virgin Mobile took off in the UK, he thought of doing a similar thing in the US, so we met at his house in London to discuss this further. We both were trying to figure out how to dress for each other. I’ve always been a jeans and cowboy boots person, and Richard’s a very casual guy, as well. The second he looked at me, he said, ‘Phew! I’m so glad that you’re dressed in jeans,’ and I said, “Me too!” And then we immediately hit it off.

This led to an excellent relationship between the two, and in 2001, Richard Branson invited Dan to become the founding CEO of his newly set up Virgin Mobile USA, Inc. He led the company from its national launch in 2002 to becoming a public company in 2007 and ultimately to its sale to Sprint Nextel in 2009. His tenure at the company was marked by the company’s growth as the ‘no hidden fees’ carrier. By the time Dan left Virgin Mobile, it had become one of the country’s top wireless carriers, with more than 5 million customers and $1.3 billion in annual sales. Following the sale of Virgin Mobile to Sprint Nextel, Dan served as President of Sprint’s Prepaid group until he moved to American Express.

As an executive at American Express, Dan wanted to understand the plight of the unbanked population of America. So he went into the streets of New York, standing in line at check-cashing shops to experience this firsthand for an AmEx documentary. When Dan finally arrived at PayPal in 2015, it was newly split from its parent company, eBay. However, he had a clear vision for the brand. He boldly declared the company’s purpose: to democratize the financial system and make “financial services universally affordable and accessible.” 

Talking about joining the organization, he said, “I felt, as an independent company, that PayPal could reinvent itself and focus on taking advantage of all the significant assets that it had but starting to expand its mission and its vision. And one of the things that I learned at American Express is that there’s a saying that it’s expensive to be poor, and that was especially true in financial services. Around the world, there are 2 billion people outside the traditional financial services industry; in the US may be 70 million or so are underserved. There’s a compelling way that technology can democratize financial services. It can make managing and moving money a right for all citizens and not just a privilege for the affluent.”

He has revolutionized PayPal with several new policies, including the 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown, where Dan initiated the idea for PayPal to offer $500 in interest-free cash advances to furloughed US government workers and committed to providing up to $25 million in interest-free loans. While in November 2020, Schulman oversaw the launch of cryptocurrency purchasing and selling on PayPal for the first time.

While Dan is also deeply passionate about the well-being of his employees and launched several initiatives to help them. One of them includes PayPal’s Employee Financial Wellness initiative to help struggling workers by lowering healthcare costs and creating channels for employees to receive equity in the company to promote long-term savings. He is also passionate about promoting social causes and has shown his support to help close the racial wealth gap by announcing PayPal’s $535 million commitment to support Black-owned businesses and minority communities in the US in 2020. After the increased number of shootings in the country, he also prohibited hate groups from using PayPal’s platform to accept payments or donations for activities that promote ‘hate, violence or racial intolerance.’

Under his inspiring leadership, PayPal has also been recognized as a Fortune Change the World company for tackling society’s biggest challenges today. Dan is also the recipient of the Frederick Douglass Award presented by The New York Urban League, the Voices of Solidarity Award presented by Vital Voices, Endeavor Global’s High-Impact Leader of the Year award, and a Brennan Legacy Award. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and currently co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s Steering Committee to promote global financial inclusion. 

In conclusion, he says, “In many ways, leadership is about defining reality and inspiring hope, but if you have these great people around you and they know that what they do is going to be recognized, it can be incredibly powerful.”