Master Who Plays His Cards Right

by Mercator Advisory Group 0

The biography of MasterCard’s chief executive, Ajay Banga, presents an unusual path up the corporate ladder, but one that leverage his personality and career path:

His affability is disarming, but it also masks a competitive streak that propelled Banga from fast food to one of the top jobs at Citigroup, where he ran the global consumer bank, before joining MasterCard last year with a promise of quickly being promoted to chief executive.

The competitive streak propelled Banga from a career marketing fast food in India to collections at Citibank and ultimately head of consumer marketing at the bank. MasterCard’s corporate culture is bound to change under Banga’s leadership, as illustrated by a number of events:

To speed up decision-making, Banga has given lower-level employees more authority to negotiate contracts and has created a new division to better compete with electronic payment systems such as PayPal. The urgency Banga is trying to instill in employees also applies to him. Any request to which he does not respond within two weeks is automatically approved.

At a leadership meeting in December, Banga grew impatient when executives spouted too many platitudes. “I told them: ‘I’m not going to let this conversation end here. You’re not being as forthright as you need to be.’ ” So he had the executives anonymously write down on index cards the five things that bothered them most. Their answers led him to slash the company’s bureaucracy. “A lot of what we did came from these touchy, feely meetings,” he says.

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