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

Interviewer: I find the transition from Citi to MasterCard to be particularly interesting. It was on the heels of the financial crisis. A bit later in your career. I imagine there was a lot of stability and kind of community that you had with the Citigroup.

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Oh yeah, I knew everybody there. I was in there. That’s true.

Interviewer: And still you made the choice to pick up and try something completely different.

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: You know, at Citi, if I stayed there, I was clearly being prepared to be the next CEO of the company. That was what the board had told me. That’s what the CEO, Vikram, who came here to speak at one of these events, actually was the CEO that time. And that’s what he told me as well. And everybody told me that. And I didn’t know that I wanted to be the CEO of a bank over the next 10 years because I think banking is going to be an industry where, you’re actually contracting and shrinking and dealing with an increasing regulatory environment rather than innovating and expanding and doing fun new things. And MasterCard had technology and data and even though I didn’t do technology when I was a young kid, I did in school but not in college I just love the space. I think I’m half a geek somewhere deep inside and I enjoy the stuff and I enjoy data and I enjoy making connections and I, I love globality and it’s got all that in it, and it’s got this interesting mix of B2B, and B2B2C, which I found really fascinating. So a lot of work for me in my head at that time, which allowed me to think about this company.

And, the second piece was that MasterCard’s number of employees are relatively small. Citibank had 290,000, 300,000 employees around when I was leaving. And at a point of time, 200,000 of them used to work for me. And it’s impossible to make change with 200,000 people in your 3, 4, 5 year span. But if you’ve got 5,000, 2,000, 10,000, 15,000 people working for you, you can touch them, feel them, put your arms around them, they know who you are, they can understand you, you can make a difference. You can actually change things in that company. I was telling the Dean, when we were talking just a little while ago, when I joined MasterCard, we had 9% of our population was millennials. It’s now four and a half years later, we closed last year 34% from millennials. I could never have done that at Citi. I just could not.

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Interviewer: But can you argue millennials and stock price are correlated?

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Not on buying, maybe on doing something about it. Yeah, that’s true. Our stock value has quadrupled in these four years, that is true, right. But, that I think has to do with the fact that we are doing two things well, laying out a clear strategy. It is simple to understand, and we are executing against it and putting our money where our mouth is. And if you do that well over a period of time, stock markets tend to compensate you well.

Interviewer: So I’m going to try something a little bit different, let’s take humility put it in a box and throw it out the window. You’re now CEO of MasterCard, Citi had you on deck to be CEO of Citi. Fortune had you as one of the top business people of 2013, you are a big deal.

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: Where’s my daughter, is she in the audience? If she’s here I want to hear that. There she is hiding.

Interviewer: And so, now with all this professional success.

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: San don’t laugh me.

Interviewer: What are one or two things about you, personality traits, personal characteristic that have set you apart and let you have so much success while others have stalled, they’ve kind of reached their dance in their career?

Ajay Banga –CEO, MasterCard: You got to ask somebody else who would evaluate me on that, I would tell you that, I would think humility is actually a big part of this, you can’t throw it out the window, because if you’re not willing to learn from people and adapt and adjust and progress in your mind, there’s always learning, you can’t be in a company like this and succeed, it just, it doesn’t make any sense. But I think that’s important. I think I picked that up over the years in some ways from people I saw and watched. Barry Ryan for example, used to have the ability in Nestle to deal with the junior most employee and the senior most as much interest of purpose with each of them. The gentleman at Citi, Sandy Weill who was the chairman and CEO and the founder of the merged Citigroup, has exactly the same attitude. He can deal with the gardener in his vineyard, he can afford vineyards, so he’s done well. And he can deal with a gardener in his vineyard with the same interest and purpose and passion as he does with a president of a country. I don’t know that you can divorce that from success. I think it’s actually a key part of who you are, and how successful you can be. I think you can be successful without the humility, but you won’t enjoy it as much. So that’s kind of one big part of it.

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