Mallick on Mallick

Will Campbell
Getting ePassporte CEO Chris Mallick on the phone can be a bit of a chore, but keeping the busy man there for an hour? Good luck — unless you happen to catch him in his car heading from one meeting at his marketing department's Santa Monica, Calif., office to the next location. And while it may not be easy to connect with the fast-paced 47-year-old father of four, once you do, getting him to talk is no work at all. Talking, as Mallick readily admits, is one of the things he does best. And he's been utilizing that asset to his advantage in business for a long time — since he became an entrepreneur at 16.

Born in 1959 in Fort Worth, Texas, the first of five siblings, Mallick went to work for his Lebanese parents at an early age.

"My family's business was in the construction industry," he said. "We built apartments and office buildings and later had some oil and gas ventures out in east Texas. I worked summers for them from the time I was 12 and then actually went to work full time after my father became ill."

Ill is one way to put it. His dad suffered a massive heart attack right in front of him.

"I literally watched him fall over," Mallick said, "as if someone shot him."

While his father underwent successful quadruple bypass surgery and ultimately returned to work, during the six-month interim of his recovery, as is often the tradition in such close-knit Mediterranean families, it was up to Mallick as the oldest son — at 16 — to pick up the flag and march the business forward. And he did.

"I just went to work," he said.

He doesn't pretend he wasn't way out of his league in the position he'd been thrust into. "I'd be on phone calls, and I'd have a business dictionary in front of me trying to figure out definitions of words," he recalled. But despite a lack of training or experience, he was already in possession of qualities that benefited him then and now.

"I always had a good poker face and was quick on my feet and could speak very well," Mallick said.

By the time his father returned, Mallick had a goal: to get rich.

"At that point, I was used to dealing with adults," he said. "Looking older and acting older and having been suddenly thrown into that environment, I really had no interest afterward in going back to school. I wanted to make money."

Mallick graduated from high school and gave college a try — a very brief one.

"I went to the University of Georgia at Athens for about three days and decided that wasn't for me," he said.

He also did some course work at NYU, but that didn't stick either, so he came back home and continued to work for his father until 1979 when, at age 20, he made the move to New York City. But it wasn't the typical story of a Texas boy relocating to the Big Apple. It was all about business and opportunity.

"My family had interests and a home there ever since I was a little kid, so I was very familiar with the place," he said. "In fact, I probably knew my way better around New York City than Fort Worth."

And because of that connection, along the way, he's gotten to meet some pretty unique people.

Sinatra Connection
"Way back in the day, my dad had a suite at the Waldorf Towers," Mallick recalled. "The only time he didn't get to use it was when Frank Sinatra wanted it. I didn't really know who he was when I was a kid, but later on, I actually got to know him very well up until the time he died."

Confessing to being into memorabilia, Mallick possesses a unique memento from the music legend. "I have a record of his that's never been released," Mallick said. "He gave it to me signed and framed with the agreement that I'd never play it publicly."

And he hasn't.

Making New York his home for 14 years allowed Mallick to become involved in a spectrum of business ventures — everything from restaurants and nightclubs such as the Limelight to accounts receivables — even one of the earliest forms of electronic transaction processing.

"For 11 years, I owned a business that processed transactions for the healthcare industry — doctors primarily," he said. "Our company did the very first electronic billing to an insurance company for a private medical practice."

And it was that business that ultimate brought Mallick west to Los Angeles. "Most of my clients were West Coast physicians, so I started spending more and more time here," he said.

In 1996, he opened a nightclub in Westwood called Duet, which he sold in 1999. It was around that same time that he met Clay Andrews and Joel Hall, and together they co-founded the Epoch/Paycom brand.

"I'd gotten out of the nightclub business to get into a more respectable line of work and ended up in porn," he said with a laugh.

Mallick remembers Paycom as a business that had everything going for it, except a solidified business model.

"It had technical people running things," he said. "They were busy keeping customers connected and passwords working, and they needed someone with business planning and experience, and that's where I fit in."

From that alliance with Andrews and Hall, ePassporte was forged in 2003 as an alternate payment method for the adult online industry independent from Visa or MasterCard. Yet not even two years later, despite their successes, Mallick abruptly left the company under somewhat mysterious circumstances in a much-publicized split in February 2005.

Mallick insists the cloak kept over the whole ordeal was for the good of Paycom and its market share.

"If I had gone public and said that I really didn't want to do this anymore, and I wanted to go off and do this ePassporte thing by myself, there would have been a big disruption, and I think our competitors would have gotten a lot more business than they got," he said.

A tactical decision such as that — to play his cards so close to the vest — went against his instincts as a communicator.

"Being someone who believes in telling everybody what happens and getting ahead of the problem, this was the one time I didn't do that, and the reason why was because it didn't matter what was said," he explained. "No one was going to believe that three guys making all this money together and having all this fun wanted to do something different."

And he was right. Rumor and intrigue abounded from the harsh words traded in that void after his exit — words that Mallick said were the result of trying to make the best individual business deals possible, not create a sense of distrust.

Unchecked Spending?
Nevertheless, there was chatter about Mallick being given the boot because of his unchecked spending habits: the chartered jets, the entourage, the lavish hotel suites.

Mallick counters that dismissively, if not a little defensively. "The fact is, if you spent an hour with me, I'd probably be the antithesis of what some people have been led to believe," he said. At the same time, he's entirely unapologetic about how he conducts business.

"Do I keep a lot of attractive people around me at trade shows? Yes, because that's what we're there to do: entertain. And yes, I stay in really nice hotel suites and fly first class not only for business reasons, but because I've worked my ass off for 30 years and deserve to."

Beyond the perks or how his use of them can get so twisted, what's most important to Mallick is his hard-earned reputation.

"Ask the people that know me and who do business with me in this industry if they've ever had anything other than a positive experience," he said. "You might find a few people who would categorize me as tough, but I don't think you'll ever find anyone that would say I've ever screwed them out of a dime or that I've lied to them."

In the end, it all worked out. Mallick completed transactions with Andrews and Hall in June 2005 in which he purchased their interests in ePassporte, and they did the same with his interests in Paycom.

The rest is history.

"We completely severed technical relationships in December 2005 and have been running completely separate operations all of this year," Mallick said.

As to what the near future holds for Mallick, he's presently working on a new entertainment venture in the production side of mainstream television and film.

"There are some interesting opportunities there," he said, "mainly because the delivery method is mostly via the Internet."

Plus he sees himself getting involved as a credit card processor much in the realm of Paycom or CCBill in the next year or so.

"I still think that there's a void in the marketplace and a need for a third or fourth company," he said. "After having backed off from it, I've gotten way out of the forest and away from the trees, and I see things from a different perspective."

But in the meantime, he plans on operating ePassporte for the foreseeable future. Although he doesn't have any deals in the works to sell the company, he said, "other than my children, everything I have is for sale."

And speaking of children, helping his four sons (ages 15, 14, 10 and 5) become men also is a big part of his upcoming years. Having just returned from three weeks in Europe with them, he savors the rewarding increase in time he's been able to spend with them since leaving Paycom.

"You lose sight," he said. "You work, and you make money. And with four boys, that's a lot of college and a lot of expenses. When you can get to that point where those things are thankfully taken care of, what becomes important is the time I can spend helping them develop their futures."