A turbaned executive? Priceless

First there was Indra, then Vikram, then Sanjay and now there’s Ajay: the new President and COO of Mastercard. Ajay Banga will be the number two man at the number two piece of plastic;”the heir apparent to Chief Executive Robert Selander.”

Banga comes to Mastercard from Citibank, where he had been in charge of their Asia-Pacific business and had been considered by the board for CEO before they turned to Pandit (one of the 20 worst CEOs EVAH!). Given that Citibank shares are down 85%, Banga must feel like he dodged a bullet by ending up at a smaller ($5 billion vs. $50 billion in revenues) but profitable company. While business is much harder for credit card companies than it used to be, Mastercard is just a middleman collecting fees by processing transactions and so it less likely to be affected than the banks and investors who hold now questionable credit card debt.

I’m also quite chuffed to see that a man in a turban and beard can phase through the corporate glass ceiling, especially in banking. In that respect, I think it helped that Banga’s career has been mainly international. In the US, minority executives and white executives follow different tracks (HBS study), but 14 years ago Banga was Marketing Director for Pepsi in India where he would not have been an outsider.

I saw my very first episode of Mad Men last night (while working on this post) and I found myself unable to empathise with the characters because I couldn’t relate to any of them. That was a world that I and most of my white friends (who are non-WASPs) would have been excluded from instantly, no matter what our credentials. Nor was this permeating predjudice limited to the 1950s: I heard Dershowitz recall that he couldn’t get a job at a top law firm in the mid-60s after clerking for the Supreme Court because he was Jewish!

So here’s to Ajay Banga and the others who will come after him, because a crack in the glass ceiling … is priceless.

29 thoughts on “A turbaned executive? Priceless

  1. Wow – that is an inspiring profile. So nice to see people of color and especially desis in these kinds of positions. On a side note, I love Mad Men precisely because it is so foreign to me…

  2. Big ups to Banga. In this market, he has his work cut out for him.

    Don’t go dissing Mad Men. It’s smartly written, well-acted – and it is an “adult” show that understands that “adult” does not mean lots of profanity, violence, or sex. I’m not a censor, but it seems every drama on CBS requires a gruesome murder. Also, Mad Men shows adults behaving like adults, not overgrown teenagers (Desperate Housewives).

  3. I’m not dissing the show at all. I think it’s a compelling view into a world I find entirely alien because it excludes much of my America. In high school, the WASPs used to joke about being token minorities because they were so outnumbered and were outside the dominant cultural frame of reference.

    It’s not that I didn’t know any WASPs growing up, I did, but they were also people who wouldn’t have fit in, like Englishmen or Quakers.

    Watching Mad Men for me is a bit of anthropology, it’s a fictional look into a bizarre set of ritual practices. I think most of the people who watch the show have some nostalgia for the time, faux or otherwise, I can’t.

  4. Congrats to Banga!

    FWIW, I didn’t like my first episode of Mad Men, but it really grew on me with additional viewings; I’m not sure you’re supposed to empathize with any of the characters–they’re all pretty underhanded in their own way, but that’s what becomes fun/interesting to watch. . . .

  5. As Gary Becker famously noted in Nobel Prize-winning work, one of the best ways to combat racism is doing undeniably good work within a competitive market….

  6. Vinod: that assumes that one is given the chance. There are enough randomized studies of otherwise identical resumes going out (we’ve written on a few here) where outsider candidates don’t even get called for an interview. I don’t know how much better you have to be than a mainstream candidate, but the Dershowitz story illustrates that even clerking for the Supreme Court wasn’t enough. My father graduated top in his class from MIT and has similar stories.

    I think part of the reason why Banga got the chance to demonstrate his acumen was that he started in India.

  7. Is there any evidence on glass ceilings and desis? It’s not so obvious that research on blacks is relevant. For being ~1 percent of the population, and predominantly immigrant and young at that, the list of leaders is already fairly impressive.

    I guess we’ll see if the massive crop of desis flowing through business/med schools takes on leadership positions. The willingness of companies to sell themselves to Indian ones suggests that Indian management skills are at least somewhat valued.

  8. Give Mad Men a chance. The Don Draper/Dick Whitman story line seems like it could end up being something we can all possibly connect to: an outsider trying to fit in and going to the extreme.

  9. Hmmm…I’m brown and turbaned and love Mad Men. And did they even use the term WASP then? Or realize that’s what they were? A lot of the agency is actually “anti” the establishment – Paul dates a black woman and participates in rallies during the freedom movement in the next season, etc. And the rest of them are a bunch of creatives who were trying to get by, so they went into advertising, just like the publishing houses and pr and ad agencies of today.

    The show’s strongest message is that it signals the beginning of the downfall of the American dream, or at least the corruption of it. You’re seeing a gaggle of young people trying to take advantage of the best things that capitalism has to offer, and at the end of the day, they are very, very unhappy. Kinda like most young people in finance today – advertising’s golden age was just in that era. What fascinates me about the show is how so many of the scenarios are still very true today – marrying for the wrong reason, staying in the closet, fighting prejudice at work (I am guessing you haven’t seen the Jewish client emerge in season 1, or Peggy Olson become a copywriter, which was unheard of for a secretary), etc.

    You also can’t watch one episode; honestly you begin to realize its brilliance in Season 2, when the woman trump the men. And it’s all about the writing. Last season’s finale was the only moment of television that actually made me tear.

  10. Mihir – if you click on the words “glass ceiling” it’s linked to some circumstantial evidence about asians in Silicon Valley. We’ve written about anti-asian bias in hiring as well. I haven’t seen a good study on glass ceilings in general, it’s not something you can experimentally manipulate and I don’t know the literature that well.

  11. Nor was this permeating predjudice limited to the 1950s: I heard Dershowitz recall that he couldn’t get a job at a top law firm in the mid-60s after clerking for the Supreme Court because he was Jewish!

    I’m reminded of when my (jewish) friend decided to join a wasp firm (cravath) back in the 1990′s. i don’t know what the situation was back in 60′s, but by the 1990s a whole // universe of jewish law firms had been born, in part to combat the glass ceiling, and many of them had more than begun to rival the power of the white shoes…in part because they were able to secure business form their jewish ibank cousins (goldman, bear, lehamn, sollie) who themselves were partially an unforseen product of the glass ceiling at morgan, drexel, kidder, etc.

    well, the elders were having none of it. a huge intervention was organized to persuade poor Adam that he’ll face incredible discrimination at cravath, and he should instead take the offer from paul, weiss. adam protested, telling his parents and their friends that they’re stuck in the past. years later he made partner at cravath. the oppressed are always the last to know.

  12. Add “guy that raises peoples interest rates at times when they really cant afford it” and “Guy that mailes me the bill on the 11th and tells me that it is due on the 12th or else I pay a penalty” to the list of

    “reasons people are afraid of people in turbans”.

    And some one said that “Mad Men” doesnt contain “lots of sex”

    Draper bangs everyone Every guy in the firm sexually harrases every secratary Draper’s wife cheats on him and she gets off on having the 10 year old kid next door being obsessed with her. The red head in the office gives it to every rich guy

    The show is pure sex.

    It is awesome.

    No one can relate to this show. It is about advertising in the 60′s. Not like every white guy on the planet is a advertising exec from the 60′s.

  13. If Mr. Banga, is reading this, I’d like to say “Congratulations”! FWIW the Card associations are little bit of a different business model than consumer banking, so I don’t think it’s fair to compare, Vikram Pandit to Ajay Banga. they have different core strengths. Mr. Pandit being primarily a quantitative analysis person, and Mr. Banga being a salesperson and marketeer.

    Both are great role models for success in commercial and consumer banking.

  14. His elder brother is Malvinder “Vindi” Banga – One of the top management executives at Unilever and erstwhile head of Unilever India. Vindi, unlike Ajay, actually decided to do away with the turban.

    Their dad is a veteran of the the Indian army (Lieutenant- General/4-star general) and still lives extremely simply in an army colony in Delhi.

  15. There are other examples of desi chiefs who made it before Indra and Vikram, which you didn’t mention. In no particular order off the top of my head. I am sure there are more.

    Rajat Gupta joined McKinsey & Company in 1973 and went on to become the firm’s first managing director born outside of the US, completing three full terms at the coveted position. Gupta became the head of the Scandinavian offices in 1981 and the head of the Chicago office in 1990. In 1994, he was elected managing director. Gupta is widely regarded as one of the first Indians to successfully break through the glass ceiling
    A 2003 profile of Victor Menezes, by the IIT Bombay Alumni Association of Greater New York, notes that he has earlier been Chairman and CEO of Citibank and headed Citigroup’s Emerging Markets business.
    In 1998, Rana Talwar was appointed Group CEO of Standard Chartered Bank.
    Rakesh Gangwal is a former CEO and Chairman of US Airways Group.
    Rono Dutta is the former President of United Airlines from 1999 to 2002.
  16. Why is this so impressive? It’s certainly easier to break through the glass ceiling if you have something to cushion the blow to your head.

  17. that’s why its important to wear a condom when one sleeps ones way to the top

  18. that’s why its important to wear a condom when one sleeps ones way to the top

    I’ll take your word on that, manju.

  19. There are other examples of desi chiefs who made it before Indra and Vikram

    The head of marketing for Reebok was Muktesh Pant reporting into the Chairman. a desi making it in a pure sporting industry – not common.

  20. that’s why its important to wear a condom when one sleeps ones way to the top

    that’s why i always pad my condoms…….it has absolutely nothing to do with enhancing size

  21. As Gary Becker famously noted in Nobel Prize-winning work, one of the best ways to combat racism is doing undeniably good work within a competitive market….

    Erroneous!

    Gary Becker specifically says (page 3 of his nobel lecture) that competition works only when the minority is not a small percentage of the majority, and thus exempts himself from having to explain the situation in America, and instead focuses on South Africa where the number of blacks exceeded the number of whites by 4-5x. He further goes on to say that there is no reason to believe that competition will eliminate discrimination in the long run.

    A literature has developed on whether discrimination in the marketplace due to prejudice disappears in the long run. Whether employers who do not want to discriminate will eventually compete away all discriminating employers depends not only on the distribution of tastes for discrimination among potential employers, but critically also on the nature of firm production functions. Of greater significance empirically is the long run discrimination by employees and customers, who are far more important sources of market discrimination than employers. There is no reason to expect discrimination by these groups to be competed away in the long run unless it is possible to have enough efficient segregated firms and effectively segregated markets for goods.
  22. I saw my very first episode of Mad Men last night (while working on this post) and I found myself unable to empathise with the characters because I couldn’t relate to any of them.

    I find it very draining to watch Mad Men for very similar reasons. I cannot imagine a time when men could be so thoughtless, openly sexist, and patronizing. Or women so convinced that a comfortable life could only be achieved by being married to a wealthy man, or that leveraging their sexuality could be a sustainable way to advance one’s career. It’s hard to determine for me whether the show is scripted to accurately reflect life then, or so heavy-handed for ratings only.