Michael Miebach Bio

Michael Miebach is chief executive officer of Mastercard and a member of the company’s board of directors.

He is leading the company into a more digital world where the continued application of new technologies will further enable payments to become more seamless in the overall purchasing experience, while bolstering cyber services and data-powered insights.

His collaborative approach creates scalable and trusted solutions for the exchange of payments and data and can be seen in his leadership of the acquisitions of Vocalink and Finicity, as well as the pending transaction with Nets – each expanding Mastercard’s range of payment flows. 

He is a member of the digital advisory council of Fannie Mae, which makes sustainable homeownership and workforce rental housing a reality for millions of Americans, and a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit Accion, which gives people across the world the financial tools and services they need to prosper. 

Michael is also a board member at large for the Ronald McDonald House New York City.


December 18, 2023

Mastercard CEO Michael Miebach on Driving the Future of the Digital Economy

What’s really in a payment? During his career at Mastercard, Michael Miebach has strived to understand how payment solutions make a difference in people’s lives, even before his appointment as CEO. In this episode, Miebach explains how he thinks through powering the economy in an increasingly digital (if uncertain) world and the leadership required to do so.


Ranjay Gulati:

The way we pay for things has gone through a revolution in recent years. While some of us may still walk around with a wad of cash, more and more consumer transactions are made with credit cards and with alternative payment systems like Venmo, Apple Pay, and even cryptocurrency. Money in the 21st century is increasingly digital. My guest this time is at the center of this competitive and fast changing field.

Welcome everyone to Deep Purpose, a podcast about courage and commitment in turbulent times. I’m Ranjay Gulati, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. Michael Miebach is the CEO of Mastercard, one of the world’s largest payment networks. Until 2006, Mastercard was a privately held company, owned by the 1400 banks that issued its card. Miebach joined the company four years after it went public to direct its operations in Africa and the Middle East. He’s also held senior positions at Citibank and Barclays Bank. I asked Michael to start us off by giving a snapshot of his very successful career before Mastercard came calling.

Michael Miebach:

Ranjay, I spent 17 years in banking. My last role in banking was running a British bank across their African business. So I thought it couldn’t get any better than that. Basically responsible for a continent, multiple lines of business engaging with every part of the economy and society. And I thought this is the best possible job there is.

And then I got an offer to join Mastercard from a previous colleague boss at Citigroup. And I thought that was not an interesting offer initially because who wants to be in payment? It felt very singular, it felt very one dimensional. It felt a lot less complex and interesting and useful about what I was doing before in that role at this other bank. But through engagements back and forth, a bit of a courting period, it dawned on me that payments is a lot more than what it sounds like. It does power the economy. And it was the added complexity or the added fascination of joining a company that’s only been a public company for four years. And before that, it was an association. So I felt like I’m joining a very, very large startup that’s been born large. Now that’s kind of a weird one and a fascinating one.

So in the end I figured, “Let me just jump in. Technology, it matters across everybody for businesses, for people and so forth. And it was in Africa so I could transport that experience and see how to make something of it.” The brief for my boss at the time was, “We’ve ignored a continent, and I need you to build a business here.” Okay, now that was interesting. So I said yes.

Ranjay Gulati:

Now, one of the words, as you took this job and had Middle East Africa in your footprint, one of the words that seemed to shape your thinking and where you were going was inclusion. You really made that kind of a centerpiece, financial inclusion, as a centerpiece for what you are going to do in Africa. Tell us how you came to that realization and the role of payments and inclusion and what does that mean to you? What did it mean to you at the time? Even the word has been used in many different ways.

Michael Miebach:

So back in banking in Africa, it was pretty clear that as a bank to grow, you needed to grow your addressable market. And that goes beyond corporate and commercial banking. There was a significant opportunity in consumer banking, but only the affluent were banked in Africa and everybody else was not. This was the mass majority. So we were trying to wreck our brains in banking on how to do that. But at the time it was all branch-based banking. How do you even reach these people? It was the early days of something emerging that was mobile-based financial services.

So when I moved over to Mastercard, I said, “Okay, we didn’t even have a business.” And I said, “You come late, you have a competitor that’s active on the continent for some time, how do you open the door?” And it was a conversation with a set of governments who were telling me the same story I had experienced in banking and said, “We want to pull our citizens into the economy, the formal economy out of the gray economy. And we need to give them tools that work in a life that is non-technical. It’s rule. There’s nothing, no infrastructure. When people want to go and get their hands on cash, they have to travel and walk to get to an ATM and then there’s no way to spend it and so forth.” So we said, “Okay, if that’s the problem to the government, if you enter a market late and you help the government solve their problem, maybe you can make up time. You can make up lost time as a competitor.” And that’s exactly what we did.

So we tried to create a business case around that, a proposition for consumers and small businesses who live in rural Africa. That’s how it all started. And then it turns out it was a really terrible business case because the return on investment for building these tools and putting the infrastructure on the ground and in a world where that was not even significant mobile coverage and so forth was a very long-term payback. And the CEO of Mastercard at the time, my predecessor, Ajay Banga, he and the board took a view at this and said, “Well, Africa is going to be the strategic theater of the future. We have not been there. If this is a 10-year business case, it is okay. We need to build for the longterm because at one point in time, Africa’s going to host the most significant population in the world. We’re okay with a 10-year business case because we have many other business cases in other parts of the world. It’s a portfolio. Michael, why don’t you go ahead.”

I recall a board meeting where at the end of the board meeting we played Shakira, It’s time for Africa, and said, “This is the time to do this. We’re going to jump in. It’s a bad business case, but it’s the right thing to do.” A year later, we were in Johannesburg in January 2012 I think, and we were standing in front of a whiteboard in our office and Ajay wrote on the wall “Doing well by doing good.” And that kind of encapsulated that whole approach. It made commercial sense in the long term. We were pulling people in, we were empowering people and we’re building whole economies. That was the starting point of something that then turned out to be a strategy for the company. And we evolved it from financial inclusion, which is a lot, is very access-based to something that is now a push for financial resilience.

So we added many more products over time and built this all out. And today we can look back and we pulled in over 800 million people into the formal economy as a company. That sprung off many other inclusive growth activities that we’re now involved in. But it proves there’s a strong connection between purpose and business. And today when people join us, I spoke to our interns this morning, 800 is the cohort that joined us this year for summer. A lot of people come here because of that work.

Ranjay Gulati:

Companies that adopt a genuine deep purpose approach to their work recognize purpose as fundamental to the firm’s very reason for being. It’s an organizing principle that shapes decision-making and binds stakeholders to one another. Purpose is a unifying statement of the commercial and social problems a business intends to profitably solve for its stakeholders. I asked Michael Miebach to reflect on Mastercard’s purpose.

Michael Miebach:

So let me first describe what we do. We power the digital economy. That is I think a simple way to display what is going on. So we’re in the business of digital payments and we facilitate these payments. And these payments are at the backend of any value exchange online, in person. Broadly speaking, we’re the operating system of the digital economy.

Now that’s not the purpose. That’s an activity. But if you think what that digital economy does, take COVID. What happened in COVID? We all got locked up. We were locked up at home and life came to a standstill. Well, it didn’t because the digital economy kept us all, not all, but many people who had access to it at least, kept us going. You could order your vegetables online if you so chose to do. You could do most things in life online. And that is what we ensured continued to happen. We didn’t miss a step in the digital economy during COVID. A lot of that is the payments industry that made that happen.

So if you look back and said we were powering people’s lives, from running the digital economy, if you lift up, we do empower people to do what they do. When they wake up in the morning, nobody says, “I want to pay.” But they say, “I want to do something” and we make that happen because that relatively complex process we highly simplify. It might work. And our brand logo, which you will remember all hopefully, is two interlocking circles. They stand for trust. So it’s going to work. And I can trust this. I will not be defrauded and this stuff works.

So that bigger purpose of you’re behind the whole economy and you make people’s life work, that resonates with people because it’s inherently a needed activity and people can believe it. You can explain it to your grandmother. If you join here as a young… Those interns today, they can go home and say, “We’re doing something really useful at this company.” That gives purpose.

Then you go into activities like financial inclusion, which go beyond the everyday running of the business that in itself is already very useful and you pull people in and you create a digital economy that works for everyone? Now, that really resonates. And here I think we’ve done good work in giving that sense of purpose. I want to go to the office every day because I do make a difference, and that is the difference.

Now, how do you make everybody out of the 30,000 people that work here believe that? Now, there’s a few ways to do that. First of all, we all have different passions. So when we join somewhere, we are not an empty piece of paper. We have maybe NGO work that we do, volunteering that we have been doing. At school, at home, wherever. And you come here, we’ve always invested quite a bit of energy in connecting people with their passions here at work. So if you wanted to continue to do that, we give you the space to do that. We have volunteering programs, we give people time to do that, but then we say, “Well, if you get to continue to do whatever you want to do, but there is bigger work that we do as a company and we do it at great scale because we have truly global reach. If you wanted to continue your passion but also get involved in our financial inclusion work so that your everyday work is connected to something that has a bigger impact beyond this business, that resonates with people.”

So yeah, a lot of people raise their hand in Mastercard, they want to do a night job. They do some engineering work during the day around our products and then they want to get involved in work related to financial inclusion in our center, which a nonprofit fund that we have created on the side of our business that supports some of our doing well by doing good work so to say. People love doing that. So you give them a chance to connect to that.

We went a step further. When after our leadership transition here in my first year as the CEO, this was the very dark days of COVID, we were at a time where I think a lot of longer term work on sustainable growth on climate work was pushed back to deal with COVID and its effects. So we said, “This is a good time for us to ensure that we don’t lose sight of that.” So we change our compensation mechanism to include an ESG-oriented component in a formulaic fashion as we just generally run our compensation program. If you do well, it’s going to turn out in a pretty predictable way for you. And we said, “If you do well now and you do well on our sustainable activities on top of that, you’re going to look even better and it’s going to work the other way if we don’t make any progress.”

The goals we had defined initially were around carbon neutrality. It was around gender parity in terms of pay, and it was around financial inclusion, things that are very close to what we do. In our industry and at the broader industry, we were one of the first companies to formulaically put ESG into compensation as well. So there’s a whole range of ways to take the purpose that resonates, that’s there, that’s what we do. We articulate it in a simple way, build a digital economy that works for everybody, empower people, power economies, all the way down to compensation. And we always learn, we always learn on this. Now this is a journey that will never end because we do believe there is a deep connection between doing the right thing and running an inclusive growth oriented business, at the same time creating shareholder value. They are, for us, very closely related. And our investors tell us that. They like that about us.

Ranjay Gulati:

Is there a personal story, Michael, that you saw in Africa or elsewhere where you realized suddenly that, “You know? What I do in payment systems and inclusion, it really matters. I’ve seen this person’s life changing because of what we do.”

Michael Miebach:

My team and me, we created a program for us to all experience how the payment solutions that we had created would make a difference in people’s lives. So we went to Soweto and we went into a registration center that is designed to hand out essentially a digital identity to people, so along with a digital account so they could receive their salaries in a digital fashion. The digital identity was driven by voiceprint. So you could authenticate yourself with Ranjay’s voice or Michael’s voice, and it was clear that you didn’t need anything else and only you would get the money. People weren’t getting their full salaries. It was handed out in cash before and then maybe they got a fraction because somebody took a cut of it. So that was a change. But then we wanted to speak to some people and hear their stories.

Now, the center and the technology is all very great and we were amazed to see it work, but then we talked to this woman and she says, “Come to my house.” The house was a… It was tiny. Metal sheets, the walls. You come inside and it’s clean and very neat. And there was a little high top counter. And on it was a wooden box. That just stood there, the wooden box. And we said to her, “Well, what’s in that box?” She says, “Oh, let me show you.” So she opened it up and it was a plastic card with a chip in it, which was the representation of her digital account with the voice footprint. It has the Mastercard logo and then she says, “This is my treasure. That’s why I put it in this box. And I know nobody can steal it for me because it’s only my voice. Because some of the members of my extended family, money was always… I had to guard it very closely. It was gone. And this takes care of all of my worries, I treasure it.”

So we left and we felt all that engineering work, that thinking work, investing a lot of time in understanding how you build a business in that context that we didn’t know before. Because we could have taken solutions from North America, from Europe and try to import it and we didn’t. We build it up from the ground. And that was the proof point. That was the proof point at the time that we’re on the right track. We turned that experience in fact into something that we have done for many years thereafter, which is some journaling. So you understand people’s lives. What is the day in the life of somebody in Uganda look like or in Egypt? What tools do they need? And today you see Africa leapfrogging because they’re not held back by legacy technology and they’re having now solutions that are far ahead of what we have in the west.

So today the world of mobile-based financial services is really on fire in Africa in a positive way and I think we built some real muscle. So we have a financial inclusion lab based out of Nairobi, which informs our technology labs, our innovation labs around the world.

Ranjay Gulati:

During his time at Mastercard, Michael Miebach has been a driver of the company’s transformation in the digital economy, but it can be really hard for big incumbent companies to move as nimbly into the digital space as they need to. Miebach says, “When Mastercard went public in 2006, it was already ahead of the game.” And in 2015, Mastercard established digital labs to help client companies with product innovation and digital transformation.

Michael Miebach:

The company has been digital from its outset. Everything we do is technology. We didn’t have manual processes that need to be digitized. Our challenge as a company was in payments, rapid technology changed. So what was already digital, that was always the next kind of technology. If we just look back the last four or five years, the change we’ve seen in the last four or five years has been more than the 50 years before. So you had card-based payments on certain technology standards, then suddenly there was real time payments, there was blockchain, there was wallets, there was biometrics. There was, you name it. So picking which one of these to invest in and future proofing the company for that next wave of change and the next wave of change, that was really our challenge.

So a colleague of mine at the time who was the head of what we then called emerging payments was tasked to do that. So we set up these labs and we gave people no purpose in life other than you need to innovate and look around the corner. That’s the only thing they needed to do. They didn’t have a budget to revenue deliver or anything like that. They had a budget to spend and we tossed them to spend it. So that was the starting point of our staying ahead of digitization journey, vis-a-vis digitizing ourselves because we were essentially a component to digitize our customer’s business. And imagine, we serve everybody in the world. This is the commercial bank of Vietnam, if it exists. So that would be one to the largest global marketplace that is also our customer. The latter one works at lightning speed and a tiny bank in an emerging country is at the other end of the spectrum. So we need to be able to do all of that.

How do you do it? You abstract a lot of the complexity of technology into our own company. You invest in ahead of the curve into technologies that they might not be ready just yet to use. So speed. And it requires a mindset of knowing what you don’t know and always looking for what is the next technology wave. So following the smart dollar, where is PE money going? Who’s investing where? And being very clear that we don’t have all of the answers, but we are a network. You can invite others in to innovate up on our network. So it’s a mix of all of that. That has been our journey. I was part of that as the chief product officer before I took this role with my colleagues, and that is a deeply ingrained mindset in Mastercard today. Professional paranoia, look left and right and what is going to come at us and we got to be ahead of the curve because we power the digital economy. We got to use that technology. That makes it very exciting. So I love doing that all day long.

Ranjay Gulati:

On that note, because this is kind of uncertainty, now you’re talking about fast moving, changing, which also the other word there is risk. Sometimes there is also what I would call fear because you’re doing things that are unknown, they’re not going to work out necessarily. Tell us about a specific moment or two where what you had to do, decisions you had to make were kind of big bet decisions that were kind of scary. I mean they could have cost you a lot of money, a reputation and maybe even cost you.

Michael Miebach:

Yeah, that’s very true. You can have 10 ideas. You should assume that a good chunk of them don’t work out. And depending on your mindset, some people might choose not to take that risk and rather keep doing what works really well for them. For us, the lay of the land, before we turned to become a public company, we were an association for 50 years, that was largely doing one thing and doing that very successfully, card-based payments for consumers. Highly concentrated but highly scaled. That is like if you’re an oil producing nation and that is the one thing you do and oil was always wanted, why would you diversify away from that? It works.

So the risk reward trade-off isn’t so clear. Just keep doing what you’re doing. In fact, after the IPO, there was also the pressure to deliver on the next quarter and the next quarter. So taking risks became even harder. But everything that is said around future-proofing the company, we build out that muscle over time and we said we are in the business of taking risks, but how do we decide which risks are worth taking versus others? And here’s an interesting point and is a juncture. This was 2015, ’16. I had just come back from AMP. Maybe I learned a lot at AMP, which is the Advanced Management Program that you referred to earlier.

Ranjay Gulati:

AMP is the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. It’s an intensive course of study at HBS designed to bring about a full scale change that empowers executives to create and renew competitive advantage for their organizations. Michael was one of my students in AMP.

Michael Miebach:

We’re doing a trend analysis, which we had gotten very good at. Every year we looked at where’s the puck going and we’re trying to understand that. Back in 2015, there was a time where realtime payments became real roundabout that time. The UK, one of the first countries to have payments at a button arrive in another bank account instantly. We said that’s a juncture in the road. We have always been in card payments. Should we get into these real-time payments? Which was a parallel technology. It was new flows that we were not involved in, massive investment. It worked well for us, why do it? And we worked for it for quite some time. And I recall going into a board meeting and pitching the idea of, “Let’s do something that we know nothing about.” That was the pitch. But it matters because this is where a majority of the payment volume today is.

So it’s a tremendous price. We haven’t quite figured out how to get there, but should we not get into it? Of course we pitched we should. It’s fascinating how the board conversation across the 60 minutes that we had allocated to it spent about five minutes on the if answer, “Should we do it? Yes or no?” And the answer was yes. And the other 55 minutes was, “All right, so how are we going to get after this opportunity fast enough?” And it was pretty clear that it was very risky because we didn’t know anything about it. We’re an established economic models and so forth. So today, nine years down the line from that. And meanwhile real-time payments is pretty established, it has become a reality, but many other technologies have emerged and that same question has repeated itself. “Should we get into a blockchain and blockchain based payment? What about central bank digital currencies? Do we need to power them and so forth?”

So we learned quite a bit of that at the time. And quite a number of bets have gone wrong. But we chose the number of bets at a given point in time very carefully and said, “How much can we sustain? If 50% goes wrong, okay, fair enough.” Today we’ve codified a culture in something called the Mastercard way and it has basically three headlines. It talks about creating value for our customers and us, growing together for our customers and us and amongst our colleagues across the company, and moving fast. We took these three headlines and we spelled out in simple English what kind of behaviors we should see in the company. And one of them was learn and pivot. This was under moving fast. It was one of the ways to bring that to life, learn and pivot. There are things that have gone wrong. This one could have gone badly wrong. It hasn’t gone wrong because we are now in a bunch of payment flows that we haven’t been in before.

But I tell you, when I walked into that board meeting, I was scared. Yeah, this felt like a lot of risk to take, but it felt like, “Hey, this technology makes a huge difference. And that’s where the volume is. So we’re going to give it a go.”

Ranjay Gulati:

Well, let’s talk a little bit about leadership now. And you’ve talked about this in various forums. You’ve talked about not being transactional but having a kind of compassionate or empathetic leadership model. You’ve also talked about the decency quotient. Tell us a little bit about as you have evolved as a leader, what has emerged to you? Is that really the essential job of a CEO?

Michael Miebach:

The decency quotient, this a term that my predecessor established. It basically means doing the right thing. And that is something that we wrote down. It’s a cultural statement that we try to live here every day. I use that a lot. I find opportunities to show that, “This is the right thing. We’re not cutting corners as a company. We’re doing things in a thoughtful way.” So that is a strong element of our culture and I try to say to my colleagues in the leadership team and across the company that that is what everybody should live, “Who is a leader here?” It’s one of our leadership principles. But it starts always with the person. So the empathy part, I probably was on my own journey as a manager, as a leader. I think COVID did something in all of this.

The COVID part, today I look in the mirror and I see this with quite a number of my colleagues. I think we’re all a little more empathetic because this was a time where the world, as we knew it, stopped to exist and we had to relearn a lot of things and how you engage. Reading body signs wasn’t a thing anymore. The impromptu conversation to find out is Ranjay actually doing well or no, that was just not a thing. So you had to make an effort to understand and to listen and to feel what is going on. I think that empathy part was a later stage kind of boost that came for the wrong reason. I think we could have all done without COVID. But I feel there’s more empathy in Mastercard and certainly in me as well. And it comes back in spade. If you really recognize the person as the person on the other hand, it sounds very motherhood and apple pie, but it does make a huge difference.

Ranjay Gulati:

Michael points out that for many of us, our new highly remote work environments have a downside. Empathy has become more challenging. Connections take a more concerted effort. We don’t bump into each other by the water cooler or chat in the hallway after a meeting the way we used to.

Michael Miebach:

You have to be very purposeful about wanting to understand and wanting to be empathetic because video has the downside of reducing you to be very transactional. I’m not going to do a video call with you, Ranjay, to ask you how you are. It’s generally for a purpose. So I think it’s very important for us to make sure that’s something we push for in a company. We are better together than not. So finding that right balance of taking the positivity of empathy and other things that we have learned more so over the last three years, but also taking some of the flexibility aspects that we have also started to appreciated being able to juggle between home and office and so forth. So empathy, more of a later, even bigger insight, how that makes a difference.

Ranjay Gulati:

And some people say that, “How do you balance empathy with accountability? I want to be empathetic, but I also need to hold you accountable.” Some leaders struggle with that. They feel that somehow empathy makes them weaker and harder for them to be able to hold others accountable for what they need to get done.

Michael Miebach:

I think as a leader, empathy, you understand the other person better, why people are successful or less successful, or what drives them to be more successful at a certain period of time. All that I think does help. The accountability side of things, I think you can be empathetic but still own up to joint goals and what you want to achieve. And if you say, “This is what we want to do and if we don’t get there, well if you have made an effort to understand each other, you can understand better why that has not been the case.” But also you can pass the tougher message in a somewhat more caring but still very candid fashion. I think hiding behind distance is not going to allow you to give that message because the message is generally not one of, “Okay, this hasn’t worked, this is the end of it.” Generally the message is, “Okay, this hasn’t worked. What did we learn from it and how do we do this better the next time?” And empathy for that is really helpful.

When you give strong feedback and you do it in a way that is caring but candid, that’s pretty good formula and I certainly feel that works. I think what helps is how does all of this live in an environment where people feel the need and the right and the freedom to say what they mean. So even that tough message also is being said. So psychological safety in a team environment as a leader creating that, I think that’s really important, particularly in very fast changing worlds with a lot of tech changes around us. Imagine there’s somebody at the table that sees the risk coming and feels not compelled to say something because it might not be thought through or it might trigger a conflict with somebody or so forth. So empathy, being candid, all in the context of psychological safety, speak up. That’s the best way to get through these somewhat complex times.

Ranjay Gulati:

Behind every business leader, there is a story, a life journey with mentors and salient moments that shape and inspire them. I asked Michael Miebach to share some of the key experiences and sources of inspiration that made him the person and the successful CEO that he is today.

Michael Miebach:

So the listeners might hear a trace of an accent. So I grew up in Germany. And I grew up in a “everything is good” context. Middle class family, there was no problems. There was not any big crucible moment in my growing up during high school age. I had the opportunity to leave that environment for a year as an exchange student outside of Germany in Michigan, Midwest USA back in 1984. My host family who’ve decided to take on this guy from Germany and they were not being paid for it or anything. They had not traveled outside of Michigan much. I think a few trips to Florida. And suddenly there’s this foreigner. And it beats me today why they decided to do that.

But I show up and it turns out this family financially they… There was a little stressed here and there, so this was a big commitment to do this. And suddenly, I’m from this everything works well kind of environment in a totally different cultural setting and in a family that had to make it work financially. That gave me a very different perspective on life. I think it was fairly narrow and I came back and I said, “Wow, the world can be entirely different.”

So when I started to go to university, I wanted to go far away and experience yet something else because clearly there is a lot else out there. Then I started to work and I started to work in an American company, Citigroup at the time. And Citigroup, and this is not again a crucible moment, but it’s a series of things that Citi does in their culture. They want to make sure that their talent gets many different opportunities. In 14 years at Citi I had 12 jobs, investment banking, consumer banking, commercial banking, front office, middle office, back office, different countries and so forth. I think that journey from the exchange student experience to wanting to learn more and then having the zigzag career, things like that, it was just how they did it and I loved it.

I think that makes me today a fairly curious person. And we try to do the same here at Mastercard. I was just saying the exact same thing to our interns this morning. I said, “Guys, you got to take charge of your career. Take every opportunity you can get to learn something else.” I think that’s the journey. So today in this fast changing world where I’m at the helm of this company, being curious and understanding what else might be coming, I think it goes back all the way to Michigan.

Ranjay Gulati:

That’s a great story. Thank you. Michael, as you think about looking forward, we have economic uncertainty, political uncertainty, social uncertainty. What do you think is going to be the hallmarks of successful leaders in the future? I heard curiosity is one huge hallmark. You’ve talked about a few others. What do you think leaders need to really cultivate to take on what lies ahead? We are going through major turbulence in a range of dimensions.

Michael Miebach:

I think a certain level of humility is going to be essential, accepting that you don’t have the answers because it’s very hard to predict where things are going to go in that world, accepting that you don’t have the answers, which should put you in a position to get a diverse set of thinkers and experiences around a table that set you up as a company to do a slightly better job in predicting what might happen and look around the corners. But it starts with this acceptance of we don’t have all of the answers.

Seeing the broader impact that the business can have beyond the next quarter, longer term thinking I think is important and therefore make longer term decisions that don’t meander with the rapid changes that are there. I think the best way to do this is to find contributions that a business can have that goes beyond the immediate P&L to broader society and community. And this is not wokeness, this is really insulating your business from shorter term swings is to seeing you generally adding value as a company. I think that’s very critical. Longer term thinking, humility. I think this aspect that we touched earlier on psychological safety, creating an environment where different views can be articulated to make sense out of that complex world and people will have these different views, those are the top three I would say will matter in a world like that. But who knows what matters in a couple of years? But that’s what I can see now.

Ranjay Gulati:

Very good. Michael, look, as your former professor, my wish for you is you go down as another legacy CEO, who left a lasting mark at Mastercard, whose fingerprints will touch this organization long after you’ve left. What do you hope will be your legacy at Mastercard? I know you’re not thinking about that at this stage, but what are the kinds of things you’re trying to do that you believe are going to be transformative for this business?

Michael Miebach:

Right. So I think the purpose of what this company does I think will be around for a long time because value exchange, people have done this from the days of barter. So I think we’re on fairly solid ground with that. But this is a value exchange. Reimagining that and how an economy is powered will be reinvented with increasing frequency. So the best thing that I can do, that my team and me can do today for the next set of leaders who will run this company is future-proof it for the next period of change. So whatever we think, if we were to say, “Oh, we’re all going to do this another whatever, call it 10 years, then that’s not the end point.” We got to look 20 years out and see what do we have to do today.

If you look at the success of the company today, a big part of the success is what leaders 10, 20 years ago have done in this company. And I think that’s the kind of mindset that we have. We cannot be short term. We can think ahead and look that far out. I got the exact same question from one of our interns this morning and I said, “I want to leave and with hand on heart say this company is future-proof for the next five years or so, depending on how fast technology will change at that time, whenever that might be.” I think that’s the key thing. If we, at that time we say, “Well, EPS hasn’t grown by X, Y, Z and the stock capital market cap has improved by X, Y, Z, that’s all important.” But it could just stop that day so I think we need to future-proof the company beyond that and have good performance.

Ranjay Gulati:

I wrapped up my conversation with Michael Miebach by asking a bit more about his experience in the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. It’s an intensive program where students live on campus for as long as seven weeks. Graduates of this life altering experience lead better prepared to lead their organizations and handle the toughest strategic challenges they may face.

What did you learn? You went away for seven weeks and came to Harvard. You were already a senior leader, handpicked to come to the AMP. What did you come back with? What toolkit, arsenal? What did you come back with when you were away and you came back?

Michael Miebach:

I came back with more critical thinking. So during AMP, we learn to question things in a different way because we’re out of the context that we were in every day in our different jobs. And you could just see that there was Mary and Harry and Michael and we were all thinking in a particular bay that we were conditioned. And AMP breaks that open and you start to think, “Well, this other guy’s asking these questions and you’re doing case studies and then somebody takes a totally different angle at a particular question that was on the table.” Seeing how people thought about them in a very different way, I think that just broke something up that was maybe over time got a little hardened as you do things in one way. It sounds very big, but it was a bit of a rejuvenation where you were going back maybe five, 10 years where you were asking more questions.

There was also a personal life aspect to this. This was 2014 for me, when at that age are you totally extracting yourself from your life for seven weeks? I was a lot more purposeful than coming back. Certain things you just take for granted because you weren’t there for seven weeks. Things go on and you need to re-immerse yourself. And that was partly very hard, but you made also more of an effort to do it. And as you made more of an effort, you got the feedback that, “Ah, he’s making an effort. Maybe I didn’t do that before.” So there was a personal side of AMP. There was a critical thinking side of the AMP. And there was some fantastic content and making lifelong friends. I travel a lot as part of the role and there’s always somebody from AMP somewhere.

Ranjay Gulati:

Yeah. Michael, one very last one I would count was just asking you how have your family made a difference in your life as a leader, as a person? Your parents, your spouse, how have they impacted you and been part of the journey that you have been on?

Michael Miebach:

Right. So possibly many of the listeners would’ve worked for multinational companies have been in different places. That’s hard on the family. I think having a partnership that can carry that is really decisive to make these kind of paths. So my wife, we’re longstanding partners in supporting each other’s career as dual career. That’s been a big impact. So there’s much in family as we all probably experience, but I love the family. It’s very important. And that’s one thing that coming back to AMP. After seven weeks, what you take for granted and suddenly isn’t there, I had a much greater appreciation for my family when I came back than I probably had before where you just hang out together every day and you take it for granted. So that was a nice reminder that when they’re not there, wow, you do miss them.

Ranjay Gulati:

Michael Miebach is the chief executive officer of Mastercard and a member of his board of directors.

For more of my conversations with leaders in the business world navigating the 21st century business environment, visit my Deep Purpose website. While you’re there. You can also find out about my book titled Deep Purpose. Companies that are serious about establishing and Working towards the deep purpose find that it delivers game changing results for the workers, the shareholders, and the larger society. So visit with me at deeppurpose.net. This podcast is produced by David Shin and Stephen Smith with help from Jen Daniels and Craig McDonald. The theme music is by Gary Meister. I’m Ranjay Gulati. Thanks for listening.