Which Credit Card CEO Made Fortune 500 List?

Fortune just announced its always highly anticipated Fortune 500 list and there’s only one credit card company CEO who made the top 10. That CEO is Ajay Banga and he ranked number 8. An honors graduate from Delhi University, Banga, who is now 49, received a B.A. in Economics and is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Early Career

Born in India, Banga began his career at Nestlé, India, where he spent more than a decade in sales, marketing and management. Two of those years were spent at Pepsico and led this march towards fast food franchises in India. Until recently, Banga had also served on the Kraft Foods’ Board of Directors as well as the Asia Society, the New York Hall of Science, the National Urban League and several others.

Making the transition into the financial sector, he became part of the executive team at Citigroup, where he oversaw all aspects of brand marketing and from 2005-2009, he led in the emergence of microfinance. Before long, he realized the global financial sector was advancing in leaps and bounds and if he was to be part of it, then he’d need to rethink his career choices. Lucky for MasterCard, in 1999, he made the transition and since then, the network has seen a healthy growth, even in tough economic times. Banja is the president and CEO as well as a member on the board of directors.

No Labels

Don’t try to label Banga, though; his role at MasterCard is extensive. From overseeing the massive credit card company’s key business operations – including global considerations, customer service, marketing, technology and operations – to the legalities associated with both credit card companies and the financial sector as a whole, trying to box Banga up into one definitive role is impossible. It’s that versatility Banga possesses that allows MasterCard to move fluidly in its role as a world financial leader. Earlier this year, his company brought to the world PayPass Wallet Services. This sleek and versatile program allows consumers to make payments, both online and from their smartphones, without having to re-enter they credit card information. It’s safer, of course, and effective.

Soon after coming to MasterCard, Banga set his sights on international goals. He brought the prepaid card market to other countries, including South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. As a result of that smart move, 60% of the company’s revenue comes from those international partnerships.

He brings a different vibe, a different sense of urgency to the company,

says Adam Frisch, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

I expect MasterCard’s velocity to change.

Many Roles

Banga is chairman of the U.S.-India Business Council. He also serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Business Roundtable and chairs its Information and Technology Initiative. In addition, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Advisory Board of the Moscow School of Management, the Economic Club of New York and The Financial Services Roundtable. He also is a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association.

In 2010, the Indian government began a nationwide campaign to issue identification numbers to all its 1.2 billion citizens. The day after the campaign began, Banga, who at that time was in his first months as the chief executive of MasterCard, arrived in town, ready to play a role. Using fingerprints and retina scans, the goal was to streamline government efforts to distribute food stamps and other financial benefits for those living below the poverty line in that country. Banga was eager to incorporate MasterCard in its efforts, stating he believed there was a simpler way to process those benefits.

At a presser in India, Banga said,

I wasn’t educated in the U.S.; I was educated in India. I understand what you are trying to do. I think it’s a huge opportunity for our government and people and companies like ours.

Acknowledging that 85% of global transactions are completed in currency, his efforts to turn the focus from cash and onto electronic payments has bode well for his company. The growing number of people who are unbanked or underbanked not only in the U.S., but around the world, his ideas are beautifully primed for a massive transition.

Even if a small portion of those underbanked consumers were to transition to mobile payments and prepaid cards, the credit card giant could see massive growth. Banga’s timing is flawless.

In Banga, MasterCard believes has struck gold with its unconventional leader, especially. He’s been described as, “A Sikh with a jet-black mustache and beard” and that he “loves fine wine, the New York Mets, Lady Gaga, Elvis Presley and Sikh spirituals”.

Two years in, Banga has seen the credit card company increase its revenues outside America by 60%. In 2010, MasterCard reported profit of $1.5 billion on $5.1 billion in revenue, compared with Visa’s $2.4 billion in profit on revenue of $6.9 billion in the fiscal year.

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