MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga on Taking Risks in Your Life and Career (Full Transcript)

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.

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And the last thing I think I picked up was that I was a young MBA entering a company which traditionally had been run by people who had grown up there from being a sales rep all the way to being the boss. And I was among the first few groups of young MBAs to come in. And therefore there was always the resentment about this young kid who would learn from me and then come back in six months time, green behind the ears, if you could find my ears, and then you would sort of, you know, have to be listening to this kid tell me how to do my business. And I learned that that’s the worst way to start your relationship with this company. And instead, if you take the approach that you can learn from everybody, because we’ve all got something to teach you. And then you can bring the value you bring. But you got to learn from everybody. It changes everything. And so, I guess that’s the two or three things in Nestle.

Interviewer: And then, you chose to leave Nestle for Pepsi Co. So 13 years at Nestle, two years at Pepsi Co, 13 years at Citi, now four to five years at MasterCard. That’s quite a few career transitions that you’ve had. I think many of us expect to also have a lot of career transitions. As you’ve gone about your career and made these big jobs, have you thought about timing and reasoning for when you leave one place and go to the next?

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Timing, very poor. I just take the jump but I think I’m ready to make it. I, in truth, in my, my generation you stay in careers for a long time. 30 years in one company. You guys are different. And I think you’ve got the right approach to it, because if you don’t try out new things, if you’re not willing to take a risk, you will achieve very little reward out of the system the way it’s constructed today. And so, I have a big encouragement saying if you want to move jobs, or you want to move roles within the company, or you want to move companies or industries, think about it but go for it. Don’t, don’t, don’t procrastinate forever, and don’t hesitate forever. So, timing in my case was more about when I felt that I had learned what I could, and I wanted to do something different. And my mind felt that I was reaching a point where I was stagnating. So, the Pepsi thing is a different one, that is only two years because Pepsi decided to spin off its restaurant business, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. That’s what I had joined to start in India. I didn’t want to work for a franchisee, I wanted to work for a large global organization, not for a local Indian franchisee. And so that was a decision that kind of came my way because the nature of what Pepsi was going through. But both of Nestle and Citi kind of stuck it through, but I did many different things in each of the companies. From, I told you about the Nestle, at Citi, I did everything from joining in marketing in India to running the region, Central Europe, Middle East, Africa, to coming to the U.S. to run the lending businesses, then the consumer business. Then I became the chair of the Global Consumer Business. Then I moved to Asia, as the dean was doing in his introduction, where I ran every one of the businesses in Asia through the financial crisis actually, and then left and came here. And each time it’s been something to do with my mind feeling that I had more to give and more to do, but maybe not where I was.

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