July - 2015 - issue > Cover Story

Ajay Banga: Steering MasterCard towards a World Beyond Cash

SI Team
Thursday, July 2, 2015
SI Team
Ajay Banga, caught the imagination of the world when he spoke about wonders of cashless society after taking the helm at MasterCard in 2010. In his first leadership meet as a CEO of the company, he enthusiastically sketched the ability of electronic cash in alleviating the downside of physical currency that is hard to track, easy to evade tax, and can be used to carry out illegal trade like drug and weapon trafficking.

For Banga, taking over MasterCard couldn't have come at the better time. Five years ago, the financial transaction market was witnessing many disruptions headed by companies like Square and PayPal, who were making waves in the mobile payments. Banga was instrumental in changing the image of the company from a payment processor into an innovator during his tenure at MasterCard. The people who associated the company with the plastic card are now seeing it has an experimenter with facial-recognition software transactions, mobile-payment systems, touchless transactions, and digital wallet. He is also steering the company towards better customer experiences banking on technology like Big Data and Data Analytics, also has set up an innovation lab that furthers MasterCard's indulgence into technological adaptations. It has been an eventful journey for this MBA graduate from IIM Ahmadabad, a non-technology leader who nearly after 30 years of experience at global enterprises including Nestle, PepsiCo, and Citicorp, is now leading technological transformations at MaterCard for a world beyond cash.

After his MBA from one of the prestigious management colleges in India, Banga began his career with Nestle India, where for 13 years he served in various roles from sales to management. Later, he spent two years at PepsiCo, where he launched the company's fast food franchises. Also, during his stint at Citigroup, Banga held a variety of senior management roles in U.S., Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, oversaw its efforts in microfinance, before his departure from the banking organization after serving as CEO of Citigroup Asia Pacific. He was appointed as president and COO of MasterCard, later had been named by the Board of Directors to serve as the company's president and CEO.

Born into a Sikh family in Khadki outside Pune, Banga, the son of a retired Indian Military General, raised as a Sikh, with his thick black beard and elegant black turban is a rare sight in the MasterCard boardroom meetings. In one instance, during his graduation speech at New York University's Stern School of Business, he quipped "I tend to stand out in a room." "Turbans and beards will do that to you." He also joked about being randomly searched at airports to be his "part-time hobby."

Driving a culture of innovation at MasterCard

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