Home / Assorted / Lessons to Learn from MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga’s Talk About Taking Risks in Your Life and Career At Stanford

Lessons to Learn from MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga’s Talk About Taking Risks in Your Life and Career At Stanford

Ajay Banga (Ajaypal Singh Banga) is a well known and reputed name in the business world. Before started serving at Mastercard (where he is currently serving as the CEO and the President) he have worked at reputed companies like PepsiCo and Nestle!

Nestle was his first appointment and he have served there for around 13 years. While people grew up in western countries find serving the same company for around 13 years quite interesting (and uncommon), in India it is common for people to work for the same company throughout the career. So not only his mindset, but the opportunities to explore various areas of business and sharpen his skills available in Nestle made him serve there for so long. He was quite clear about his goal and at the right time he decided to move forward with PepsiCo.

His career was not quite long at PepsiCo as he was primly asked to serve in India, and he wanted to explore the operations at global level. And eventually he landed into MasterCard.

Ajay was not born with a golden spoon in his mouth and his career is solely based on his abilities and decisions. Of course he got the right opportunities too. He is thus considered as one of the inspirational/motivational figure in the world of management studies. He was also invited to deliver keynote address at NYU.


At ThinkerViews we often talk about motivational stuff and we have mostly covered Keynote addresses or commencement speeches which we found are inspirational yet realistic in terms of implementation also. Recently we have talked about the motivational stuff we have found in Indra Nooyi and Doug McMillon.

Business Lessons To Learn From The Conversation Between Indra Nooyi and Doug McMillon

Here is a similar conversation where Mr. Ajay Banga talks about taking risks in life and career at Stanford.

While we will try to represent what we found as good lessons to learn from the speech in this article; it is definitely not the transcript of his speech. It is our personal assessment of his speech and what we consider as the stuff worth talking about.

1. We all have the potential

When asked for what he had learn from his first job at Nestle. He fondly talked about how he completed his studies and then got a chance to work at Nestle. He doesn’t forget to give credit to those who deserve it. It is one of the best qualities we should develop in ourselves also.

As per the famous saying A friend in need is a friend indeed we should always remember those who helped us and/or taught us something. Acknowledging the good deeds is very important. During the conversation Ajay says that (not exact phrase)”

One individual can make the difference. People makes the difference not the companies.

I agree with the point. He is very correct that ultimately it is all about individuals. One person can make a difference and actually each one have the caliber. It is upto the individual that how he uses his potential and for what purpose. None of the revolution could have been ignited without someone who dared to stand for a cause and believed that a change is possible.

2. Find solutions

Mr. Banga says that, one of the very best lessons he learn from his superior is

Never take no for answer, there is always a way to get to the right solution , if you apply your mind.

And yes, it is simple and effective lesson. Here it doesn’t mean to have a blind eye against the reality or refusing to see the facts. The point is, if you want to go ahead and the situation is not favorable, then find an alternative. Yes, there is always a way. He also suggest that by finding a way, he doesn’t mean that you need to compromise with what you believe in or your character.

Commitment to quality, ethics and standard should be maintained. And any solution you go with should reflect that the principles are retained.

3. Communication is the key

Most of the people wanted to excel at Communication. Living in a social environment we are surrounded by people at personal and professional end. And communicating our thoughts and vision to them in effective manner is a must.

It is said that most of the problems (be at domestic level, professional level or even international level) are associated with poor communication (or lack of communication) somewhere.

Communication keys are essential

Communication skill is essential

4. Learn from everyone

We also need to understand that communication doesn’t always mean that we are conveying our vision in very powerful way. We need to keep our eyes and ears open to hear the response as well. Sometimes we get better things which may result into improvement of the end product/service we are planning to build.

Learn from everyone

Learn from everyone

As our ancient literature says, a man is a lifelong student. (And if he is not, he should be).

Life is refreshing every day. And we are introduced with new inventions and technological marvels which makes the things possible which earlier were considered as impossible. So we need to keep our mind open and keep learning from everyone.

Of course, retaining our core values while learning new things is equally important.

5. Analyze your goal and your resources both

While he was talking about why he have decided to join master card rather than any bank. He represented his thoughts clearly. As he see the potential of improvement in technical field, he have joined it. It is a technology company who have a research department (which he have in MarsterCard also, and it runs directly under him) and it keeps searching for new ideas which can improve the end products and make it available in the actual market.

And these technical innovations help people at receiving end feel the change.

He also tells that we have to check in the resources and analyse them to better understand and plan them to achieve what we need. He says something like this

Impossible to make change with 200000 people in your 3-4 year span, instead if there are 5-10 thousand people you are working with in a team you can motivate them, communicate with them and manage them effectively to bring the change.

Of course many people jump to disagree with the point but you should hear the entire speech and understand that in which context it is spoken. The bigger team is not always better. That’ts why any organization is managed hierarchically.

6. Simplicity (in execution) bring more effective results

It is not necessary to have something extra ordinary or larger than life things to make the things working. In most of the case, simplicity is the best way to execute the things. If the stuff can be done in simple way there is no need to make it complex without a reason.

7. Humility and Taking Risks are two important characteristics

While the innovation is very important, one needs to have the human feelings for the other fellow. If you are successful then you are not automatically privileged to be rude to the others. In fact, under any circumstances you should not forget to keep your human attributes intact.

In addition to humility he also puts emphasis on having the mindset to be ready to take risks. He also tells that taking risks is quite different than being foolish. You need to think out of the box, and develop the things out of the way, when needed, to get desired results, that is what “taking risks” is.

We have often said in other articles also, that we need to dream high, but with our eyes open. We need to keep a reality check of all the positive and negative aspects and determine the plans based on the ground of reality. Then believe in your vision and abilities (which are now wisely analyzed by you) to go ahead and do the things which are not done yet. It is the way to bring in the change.

7. Cash v/s other forms of Money

While talked specifically about the world of finance he put focus on reducing the use of Cash. He have suggested (rightly) that Cash is the friend of rich people not poor. He then gave the examples of how and why the cash is used by the wrongdoers to not to leave a trail. While going through digital transactions or use card (credit/debit or any other similar card), the transaction is always recorded. Thus the transaction became accountable.

While it is not possible with cash. That’s why he says that the motto of his company is A world beyond cash.

He goes ahead and counters the belief that many people have that Cash is Free. He goes ahead and tells about the steps involved in printing a currency to making it available to bank and ATMs. He is able to convince that Cash is not free.

8. Skills are important not the gender or ethnicity

While talking about work culture and his own experiences he also debunks a myth that many people have about women that they cannot be good at technology. He says clearly that Women can excel in technology too. Actually any one can, regardless of his/her gender, excel in any field if have abilities, it is that simple.

At a separate point, when he was asked what are the best things he learn from India during his grow up. He mentioned that based on his grow up he always Took diversity for granted. While India is a country where people with different lifestyles and beliefs are living together cordially where their religion or ethnicity doesn’t come in between.

He is completely displeased that if someone counts a team of say 10 members as having 2 Americans, 3 Indians, 1 Japanese, and… something like that. If the person is capable of doing things which he/she is responsible to do, that’s it.

We all are human beings at the end and we need to learn respecting others who may not look like us or eat and dress like us or live like us.

9. How to deal with problems and challenges

Being a Sikh he is wearing turban and he haven’t changed anything in his appearance about it. Why should one change his/her own beliefs, attributes and values if they are not harmful to others? He also talk frankly about how he is often have to wait for security checks at airports or people pass comments for his appearance.

Based on these facts he was advised by the superiors to have alternate ways (eg. use private plane rather than going through regular flights), but he refused. For the problems and challenges he have only one one way to respond:

Dealing with it with it more important than hiding from it.

And I admire the attitude.

10. Work-Life balance

He is very clear about it.

You have to spend time with the people you care for


No matter how much efforts you have to implement, but you have to do it without fail. What is the meaning of the life otherwise? Of course one cannot be stubborn on anything or cannot ignore important professional alerts. Often you need to work over the weekend also. But it is upto the individual that how he/she manages his/her own work-life balance.

He gives very important advise:

Get rid of habit of having smartphone available to you always, and keep looking at it throughout.

I personally believe in the same fact. We have seen people while eating out with friends of family, were busy taking pictures of the dining table and group to share with the others. So rather than actually spending time with those with whom they physically are, they are quite effectively present in their virtual world. This way, neither you are living your physical life nor your virtual life effectively.

Be in the moment. Those who are in-front of you, are important to you (or otherwise why should be there?). Care for them and devote the attention they deserve to them.

11. Always have Plan B

While asked about what India have taught him, he counts the idea of always having alternatives as one of the important points.

Of course your plan A should be working fine as expected. But everything is not under your control and you often have to deal with outside situations also. So always being ready with an alternate plan is not only advisable but essential.

Be ready with alternative plans

Be ready with alternative plans

It will make you count the risk factors effectively. And, in case, if the things don’t go as plan, you don’t need to just panic and sit idle. The next step is already there in your vision and you can go ahead with that.

In life, this practical advise plays a very important role.

Definitely worth watching conversation which is very educational as well.

All the views and reviews we have presented about is our takeaways from the speech in our words.

External links:

Here is the official link to find more about this conversation:

Over to you:

While we have shared the lessons we have learn from it, we would like to know, what is your take on it. We invite you to share your thoughts about the conversation.

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