The President and CEO of MasterCard was appointed with a mandate to chase down industry leader Visa. He was named by The Economic Times as the fourth ‘most powerful global Indian’ on its list.
“When I graduated, I was all of 21, green behind the ears. And I had no clue what I was going to do with my life other than join a great global firm Nestle.” — Ajay Banga
Ajaypal Singh Banga or Ajay Banga, as he is popularly known, is perhaps the only executive to be heading an international company having been educated just in India. Most others in his range and calibre have US degrees in addition to the ones they earned in India. The current President and CEO of MasterCard Inc succeeded Robert W. Selander in July 2010.
Banga was born in 1961 in a Sikh family in Khadki, near Pune in Maharashtra. The family was originally from Jalandhar in Punjab. His father was Lt General Harbhajan Singh Banga of the Indian Army. Being an Army officer’s son, Ajay was forced to move along with the family to whichever place his father was posted, and hence did his schooling in different parts of the country. He finished his schooling in Shimla and went on to graduate in economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. He is also an alumnus of the IIM Ahmedabad.
Banga started his career at Nestle India as a management trainee in 1981 and spent the next 13 years holding a variety of assignments spanning sales, marketing and general management. He later joined PepsiCo’s Restaurants Division, where he was instrumental in launching Pizza Hut and KFC in India.
In 1996, he joined Citigroup as head of marketing in India for the consumer business, and served in a variety of positions including that of the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the International Global Consumer Group; president of Retail Banking North America; business head for CitiFinancial and the US Consumer Assets Division; and, division executive for the consumer bank in Europe, Middle East and India.
In 2000, Banga was promoted to head CitiFinancial and the US consumer assets division. In 2002 he took over the retail bank in North America – his first stint in the United States — and in 2005 he was named to head Citigroup’s international consumer-banking and finance businesses.
He moved to Hong Kong in early 2008 after being named to oversee all of the bank’s businesses in Asia, including credit cards and consumer banking, institutional banking, wealth management and alternative investments, before returning to the US in 2009 to join MasterCard.
On joining MasterCard worldwide, Banga’s task was clear, i.e. to chase down leader Visa at a time when both networks were said to be benefiting from consumers’ increased shift to plastic. He worked with one of his best clients to find a way to get more youth to use debit cards. As a result he redesigned the debit card product with its package of features, connecting it to music, and created a whole new marketing approach with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
He is now a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and The Economic Club of New York, as well as a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association. He is also a member of the Financial Services Roundtable and Business Roundtable, where he chairs the IT initiative.
Within the last five years, Banga has also served on the boards of trustees of Enterprise Community Partners Inc, the National Urban League and the New York Hall of Science, and was a director of the Council for Economic Education.
Banga is keen on social development issues and was named by Economic Times of India as the fourth “Most Powerful Indian” in the world.
“I’m very passionate, but I take time to work my passion. I study something and I try to understand both sides of the debate,” Banga says.