“Become a purpose-driven company to create a fantastic work culture” With Sanjiv Yajnik President of Capital One Financial Services & Phil Laboon

Now, more than ever, employees are looking to work for companies that have a higher purpose — one that they believe in and that they are empowered to help the company achieve. Companies are starting to understand this. Based on a recent study we commissioned, we found executives are looking to be even more purpose driven this year. Purpose-driven companies define their aspirational reason for existing as something that inspires and provides a call to action for the organization, as well as delivers a benefit to society. Companies who define and embrace their purpose and excel at helping their employees understand and participate in it, have a much higher chance of succeeding. This is because when employees know their purpose, they gain a positive well being and are motivated to innovate. This ultimately impacts the speed at which the company is able to launch new products and services, therefore creating positive engagement for employees and impacting the company’s overall results. Additionally, employees are looking for companies that have a forward-leaning growth mindset, which means that they are focused on growing their impact through innovation. Based on our research, executives agree — finding new ways of working is important in achieving transformation.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sanjiv Yajnik, President of Capital One Financial Services. Sanjiv is also President of Capital One National Association (CONA), one of Capital One’s two legal entities. As President of CONA, he serves on the Capital One Board of Directors. In addition, Sanjiv leads Capital One’s community activities throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana as Market President of the company’s South Central Region. He also serves as Chairman of the Collin County Business Alliance (CCBA). The CCBA is a group of business leaders who have come together to address issues facing Collin County, Texas. In November 2015, Sanjiv was appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to be Chairman of the Economic Development Corporation. Sanjiv is also the Chairman of the nationally-acclaimed Dallas Symphony Association. In addition to his local community outreach and involvement, Sanjiv is on the Board of the National Academy Foundation and serves as its Treasurer. Finally, Sanjiv is on the Board of Directors for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate and investment company.


Thank you so much for joining us Sanjiv. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In 2015, we were in the midst of enjoying the sweet success of having turned around and built one of the largest auto finance businesses in the country. But, we decided we had to essentially rethink and reshape every aspect of the business to make the jump to a new paradigm — digital and AI. Every single thing needed to be changed.

We created an innovation lab called the Garage, but instead of bolting it on to the side of our existing business, we integrated it into the core of our division. We transformed the way we worked based on rapid, hands-on learning and shattered functional and industry boundaries. The Garage has become a mindset, more than just a physical space, empowering everyone in our division to reach across boundaries, truly owning their space and fostering innovation.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At Capital One, we reimagined the car buying experience technologically and analytically, creating a completely tailored experience for our consumers through Auto Navigator. Auto Navigator helps consumers not only find a car, but also see if they prequalify for financing without any impact to their credit score. We’ve continued to build out Auto Navigator and today, it provides a digital inventory of millions of cars from thousands of participating dealerships across the nation. But we are continuing to raise the bar still higher. I’m excited about additional features and enhancements we are testing to create an end-to-end confidence-building car buying experience.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Now, more than ever, employees are looking to work for companies that have a higher purpose — one that they believe in and that they are empowered to help the company achieve. Companies are starting to understand this. Based on a recent study we commissioned, we found executives are looking to be even more purpose driven this year. Purpose-driven companies define their aspirational reason for existing as something that inspires and provides a call to action for the organization, as well as delivers a benefit to society.

Companies who define and embrace their purpose and excel at helping their employees understand and participate in it, have a much higher chance of succeeding. This is because when employees know their purpose, they gain a positive well being and are motivated to innovate. This ultimately impacts the speed at which the company is able to launch new products and services, therefore creating positive engagement for employees and impacting the company’s overall results.

Additionally, employees are looking for companies that have a forward-leaning growth mindset, which means that they are focused on growing their impact through innovation. Based on our research, executives agree — finding new ways of working is important in achieving transformation.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

  • Everything you do must be true to your higher purpose, and all decisions should link back to that purpose.
  • Be mindful that sloping performance across the company can never mean you slope caring.
  • Help associates “Be Their Own CEO.” Give them well-defined constraints and empower them to achieve their purpose.
  • Be a role model that embraces diversity.
  • Be open and patient, and be sure you are listening carefully to all voices.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

As a society, we need to embrace diversity. A diverse workforce is deeply connected to the fabric of society. We should celebrate our similarities and cherish our differences. Work becomes exciting and fulfilling when we do things for the sake of a higher purpose, while simultaneously being open to diverse thoughts and ideas from each other.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I am passionate about working with very talented people and giving them the opportunities and space to build something great. I really enjoy coaching people to succeed, and seeing people and families gain success. It’s one of the biggest drivers of my own happiness. I also believe that all teams have a higher purpose to not only serve our customers, but also society overall — and I try to lead by example.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people in my life who have been tremendously impactful, but if I had to name one, I would say my mother. She was an extremely strong woman, and though I was not aware of it while growing up, she instilled in me a deep respect for women leaders and the untapped potential when people are not treated equally. This has allowed me to tap into the inherent talent of a diverse workforce and has driven my passion to help people achieve great success.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Through my experiences in life, I have a deep belief that vibrant communities need world-class businesses that are successful. Successful companies have an obligation to give back to the communities in which their families live and work. I am very passionate about the work that we do at Capital One beyond our four walls, and I have been able to use my position to influence others to be civically minded. I co-founded the Collin County Business Alliance, a group of business leaders and government officials that address key infrastructure issues in our community. I am also chairman of the Texas Economic Development Corporation, and serve on the board for NAF, a national network of education, business and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career and future ready. Additionally, I chair the Dallas Symphony Association Board of Governors, because the arts are a critical element of successful and vibrant communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be water my friend.” — Bruce Lee

This quote is a reminder that we have the capacity to be anything that we want to be and skills can be learned. A changing world can be embraced and nothing needs to remain static. Throughout my career I have served in a number of roles — from naval architecture and marine engineering, to consumer goods and consumer electronics before joining Capital One. During this journey, I have seen technology change, successful industries change and ways of working change. And the quote always reminds me, the most powerful thing in life is to shape yourself to the situation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My aspiration would be to inspire a movement where education would become the most important imperative that we would set out for ourselves — preschool through college — and inspire a way to shatter the constraints that seem to be holding us back. Education is the thing that will improve everything in life and empower people to rise up to their potential.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!