Full Text — MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga on Taking Risks in Your Life and Career View From The Top talk at Stanford GSB
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga on Taking Risks in Your Life and Career
Interviewer: Thank you so much for being here today. It’s a real pleasure to have you. And before we dive in, I want to have a brief roadmap of where we’re going to go with today’s conversation. Want to begin with your career and its trajectory to date, 30 years, Nestle, Pepsi-Co.
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: You’re giving away my age very quickly.
Interviewer: So Nestle, Pepsi Co, Citi, and now MasterCard.
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Yeah.
Interviewer: Then I want to move on to, in the last 10 years at Citi and now MasterCard, you’ve had a chance to develop a global perspective, and I want to explore that a little bit.
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Okay.
Interviewer: And finally I want to pivot some more personal things like work life balance, family, diversity et cetera.
Now before we begin, I also have a deal for you. If you can forgive half my MasterCard debt, I’ll stick to the easy questions.
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Now, what if I double your debt?
Interviewer: Okay, hard questions it is you guys.
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Sucker punch.
Interviewer: So let’s start 30 years ago. You graduated. You went to Nestle as your first job. And you spent 13 years there. At the time when you were choosing your first job, how did you choose Nestle as the first place you wanted to work?
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: And so my wife and I were classmates at business school. She’s sitting right there. We were both, you know when we were in business school. This was a long time ago 1979 to 81. In India, India had just began to open up to the advent of multinationals coming in to build a lot of businesses there. Some had stayed on over the years and had changed their ownership model. Nestle was one of those, Unilever was another one. Others had left when the Indian government wasn’t as conducive to foreign investment as it is in the period in between. And so when we were graduating, multi-national corporations like Nestle, like Unilever, were places to work in of great attraction. They were terrific for learning the business. They were great for understanding the culture of a company that operated across the world. They were great for comprehending the concept of high quality products, of high ethics in how you worked. And all of us looked up to those companies as where you wanted to be. Because you would learn the things that you needed to learn in your early years of working life. And we guys, unlike you all who work and then come to business school, we didn’t risk to go, those days, straight from undergrad to business school. We were very young. I was 21 years old when I finished my business school career. And so, when you think about that, you think about the people in that frame of mind, Nestle was a very attractive learning place, with lots of strengths and attributes that I still think the company has. That’s how I ended up there. Getting in was not easy because everybody in the class would apply for these few jobs that were available, and they were very competitive, but —
Interviewer: And then, you chose to spend 13 years there?
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Yeah, so clearly it takes me a long time to learn. But the really attractive part about Nestle was that you were able to move in different parts of the company very quickly. It was part of why I went there. It’s part of what I’ve tried to build with all the recruitment programs we run here as well as in Citigroup where I had a chance to influence the kind of program is I tried and built the chance for people to go across the company in different places, geographically, functionally, opportunity wise, so that they don’t get stuck and where they joined is where they’re going to be. And I think that’s a big part of what Nestle did for me. They took me into sales. They took me into marketing. They took me into factories. 7They took me into product management. Took me into running a region and gave me the chance to work on changing the entire inventory system of the Indian company and to manage inventory and working capital better. Things that I don’t know, but a lot of our company would have given me that breadth and depth of knowledge, and I’ve lived in all parts of India, as I said, this is the one time you got paid to travel. Not the most attractive places, but you’re paid to travel.
Interviewer: And, so now, 30 years later and you reflect back on that time at Nestle, what are one or two things that you really learned over that, over the course of those 13 years that set you up for so much success later on in your career?
Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: I’d say that Nestle taught me a lot of things. The guy, I still say that the guy was the managing director of Nestle when I joined, many levels above me, a guy called Barry Ryan. He’s still one of the people I’ve learned the most from. And I think people make the difference, not just companies. And you’ll see that’ll keep coming up in a conversation with me. That one individual can make a difference and Barry Ryan made a difference to Nestle. It was there when I joined. And his view, aside from the company’s commitment to quality and ethics and standards, his view was, never take no for an answer. There is always a way to get to the right solution. If you apply your mind, don’t take the hurdles that come in your way as the reason why you’d move around them or give up or as in India they say, jugar. Jugar means you adjust for everything. He said don’t do that, that’s the wrong way to do business. Go for it. Never take no for an answer.
And the second thing that he taught me, which I think was tremendous, was that you’re one added — you’re one person, but you’re one person you can make the difference. If you have the energy and the passion to drive it in to action, and if you know how to communicate well, which by the way is the most underrated attribute when you’re young, but the most important attribute as you grow, is your communication. And if you can do those two things well, then there’s a whole new world out there. And I think Nestle taught me that really, really, well thanks to him.