Ajay Banga’s career trajectory and life lessons

I’ve always been curious about the personality called Ajay Banga — the CEO of Mastercard. Thanks to Stanford GSB “View from the Top” series, I learnt a few things about him and the space he operates in. Definitely going to read/listen more from him, and think he might find a stand in my business role-models podium. Very few leaders up there are able to make a tangible connection the way he does.

Some highlights from the talk — verbatim, paraphrased and somewhat extrapolated below.

Why did he leave Citi to head MasterCard when he had a guaranteed CEO spot at Citi

Hard to bring about a change with 200K employees reporting into you. Its not possible to do anything significant when you witness market shifts with this big a mass, in a finite horizon of time. Banks are not fun businesses with the regulations you constantly have to deal with. I love technology, and wanted to keep innovating and do interesting things. I had 5000 people when I joined MasterCard with only 9% millenials. Today, that number is 34%.

Lets throw humility out of the door - you’ve gathered tremendous experience since you graduated from B-School. Nestle, PepsiCo, Citi and now the CEO of Mastercard. You’re a big deal…

Well, you can’t throw humility outta the door. Connect to your people, and maintain that connection. It gives you insights you wouldn’t normally get. You could be successful without any humility, but it isn’t much fun.

On risks and being uncomfortable

We have moved 8 times in the last 25 years, always rented a house wherever, only recently bought one, my daughters have gone to 8 different schools while growing up. When you’re always trying to do things you love and feel passionate about, these are trivial details.

On You

I don’t believe in “born that way” — your mind is more capable of adapting than you think. With the right set of values while growing up, if you open yourself up to all learning, you can be orders of magnitude larger than your born that way you.

Cash (& Payments)

…is still king, and needs to be de-throned. Cash/check constitute 50%, 78% and 80% in US, Germany and Japan respectively. Digital payments is only 15% of the transaction space, and I am pretty comfortable in that game. The rest 85% is what keeps me awake. Cash means many things — tax evasion/corruption devolving into lower development potential for Govts. like India, problems for society like drugs and salary payments in some countries, and the HUGE cost of printing and managing money (for e.g. it costs the US Govt. 1.5% of the GDP to print, manage, distribute cash — that number is a whopping ~220bn!)

Personal

Work life balance — its about loving what you do and then fitting everything around it. Ditch devices when around fam. Be there when they need you, and spend quality time.

Hard times post 9/11 — Believed in the 99.5% good humanity when faced with socio-racial challenges. Ignored the nasty 0.5. Colleagues and friends were very supportive, and I leaned.

Diversity

Surround yourself with the right kind of diversity — diversity in thoughts, backgrounds, actions. Ignore stupid things like race, ethnicity etc.

Someone also asked a question, which just as a question resonated C# with me — that the valley needs a perspective calibration — our ideas of great leaders and solid businesses are a little screwed up. Ref. Snapchat or cool companies with abysmal revenues.

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