Follow The Leader: Raghu Malhotra, President - Middle East and Africa, MasterCard

Follow The Leader: Raghu Malhotra, President - Middle East and Africa, MasterCard
Image credit: MasterCard
Raghu Malhotra, President - Middle East and Africa, MasterCard

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“At the very core, every business leader is an entrepreneur, and the willingness to innovate lies at the heart of entrepreneurship, therefore, innovation and leadership go hand in hand. Regardless of the nature of the industry a business operates in or its size, every enterprise benefits tremendously from the vision and direction of a leader who appreciates the value of inspiring his/her colleagues to innovate, contribute to a thriving culture of creativity, and meet the company’s business goals.”

"MasterCard is a technology company, and that, in more ways than one, sets the context of how I approach my job,” says Raghu Malhotra, when talking about his role as the President for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) regions at MasterCard. “Technological innovations are a by-product of collaborative, creative and open work environments, and I take great pride in being able to work with individuals who all firmly believe in the power of technology and knowledge sharing, and the impact these two have on our consumers’ day-to-day lives, and of course, ours. At every level, we are aware of our business’ core objectives– both long-term and short-term. Looking at challenges from all the angles- it’s ingrained in our DNA, and forms part of our everyday discussions.”

Given that MasterCard is a company that reported net revenue of US$2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2016 (a 10% increase from its figures over the same period last year), Malhotra’s statement on workplace environments being key to stimulating innovation is something all you entrepreneurs out there should be trying to copy within your own enterprises, as this basic principle is what governs his leadership strategy at the organization. “With these foundations in place, my formula for successfully steering the company towards growth becomes a simple equation,” Malhotra explains. “I have always believed in leading by example and staying persistent. This becomes especially important at MasterCard, because, let’s face it, we operate in highly competitive times. So, it is important to be realistic and have a global view and learn from experiences. This is not to say that we do not set high expectations for ourselves. We understand that technology flourishes in competitive environments and we want to continue surpassing our own benchmarks, but without losing sight of the fact that it is the small changes, small developments and small progresses that together result in some of the biggest breakthroughs.”

With respect to MasterCard’s operations in the Middle East and Africa, Malhotra notes that as a global company, its core objectives remain the same around the world; however, the approach to realize these visions is dependent on the market, consumer behavior and the access they have to financial services. “Localization of our strategies, services and solutions is therefore key to meeting market-specific challenges,” Malhotra says. “In the Middle East and Africa, for instance, financial inclusion is among our top focus areas. As an example, our work with the Egyptian government to roll out a digital ID program that links citizens’ national ID to the existing national mobile money platform, which will help extend the benefits of financial inclusion to 54 million citizens in the country. Through a similar program, we have worked with the Nigerian government in issuing National Electronic ID (e-ID) cards to enable Nigerians aged 16 and above to have a similar national ID as well as access to an electronic payment platform. This will help bring financial services to Nigeria’s 170 million citizens.” Once again, Malhotra points toward innovative thinking as being essential to the company’s growth in this region. “At the speed with which MasterCard is growing its footprint in MEA, doings things creatively and differently, is the only way forward,” he notes. “We are always looking for new ways to enhance our operational efficiency, streamline our efforts to better serve our partners and consumers, and to help teams reach their full potential to be the best at what they do.”

Related: Surging Ahead: Fintech Startups In The Middle East

Like many other brands around the world, MasterCard has also made significant inroads into supporting entrepreneurship and innovation around the world. According to Malhotra, this is a reflection of knowledge sharing being a critical component of what MasterCard does as a company. “From a casual exchange of ideas in our offices, to supporting thousands of entrepreneurs, SMEs and other entities through our proven innovation processes, we strive to be a responsible company that believes in doing well and doing good,” Malhotra says. “Our efforts in supporting and enabling an entrepreneurship ecosystem are a derivative of our commitment to connecting 500 million people, including millions of merchants by 2020, in which MEA has played and will continue to play a key role in its realization. This represents a powerful opportunity– one that has the potential to make a difference to the lives of millions across MEA, especially on the back of the regional youth’s infectious enthusiasm for professional and financial independence.” Examples of such programs are already out in the market- Malhotra points toward the MasterCard Start Path Global 2016 program, which is aimed at providing startups with an accelerated path to scale innovative solutions. “Similarly, through our work with the Youth for Technology Foundation in Nigeria, we are paving the way for a whole new generation of female entrepreneurs to take control of their lives, and by doing so, contribute to national economy through financial solutions that work for them,” he adds. “These are only a few of the many examples of our success in encouraging enterprising professionals, communities and women to take charge of their own lives and follow their passions, while we power their ideas with the technology and innovation they need to bring their visions and ideas to life.”

While Malhotra’s reiteration of innovation as being key to everything that MasterCard does is indeed a good thing, one must wonder: in a region where innovation has (arguably) become a buzzword of sorts that means everything and anything, what exactly does it stand for at MasterCard? “Innovation can be defined in many different ways,” Malhotra admits. “It can mean different things to different people. But when you are in the business of innovation, you cannot afford to have multiple definitions. For us at MasterCard, innovation translates into making a difference in the way people think about the cash in their wallets or electronic payments that are just a click or a tap away. For us, it begins with the mindset of our consumers, and we are on a journey to changing mindsets about cash through smaller achievements that began with one simple belief that payment is just a means– a facilitator of a specific, more meaningful experience. To hammer the point home, we at MasterCard are often heard saying that we don’t wake up in the morning thinking about making a payment. It is something that happens in the backend, while we continue to focus on things that matter more. Of course, innovation without execution is only ideation. Our commitment to supporting the global entrepreneurship ecosystem fuels our ability to innovate, scale ideas that work and empower individuals through real-time solutions that drive their inclusion in the financial mainstream. In this context, we also like to remember where we started. The very experience of having someone pay with just a piece of plastic, securely, safely and globally is quite a remarkable progress for our generation, isn’t it?”

Raghu Malhotra, President - MEA, MasterCard. Image credit: MasterCard.

Ask The Exec: Raghu Malhotra

The Q: What factors do you think contribute to making someone a great leader for an organization ? What is your personal leadership mantra ?

The A: “Believing in yourself and your team’s abilities is very important. Making it to the top of the corporate ladder is far from being an individual achievement only; it is a collective effort made possible with the innumerable contributions of your colleagues, teammates and lessons and experiences that you have learnt along the way, that help cement your career trajectory. In the end, and more importantly for our industry that thrives on creativity, individual success is defined by team success. Also, working in the technology sector means you will see new innovations take over old ones at a breakneck speed. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the volume and frequency of these disruptions and the impact they leave on our personal and professional lives, but maintaining a stable worklife balance and having other interests outside of work, will help one gain perspective and bring things into focus during times of turmoil and dismay. Be yourself, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and be at harmony with yourself and your personality.”

Related: State of Payments 2015: E-commerce's Influence In MENA Grows

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