Turban, beard make me stand out in a room: Mastercard CEO

Jun 03 2014, 14:09 IST
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Being comfortable with identity is critical to succeed in life, said Ajay Banga. Image Courtesy: Reuters Being comfortable with identity is critical to succeed in life, said Ajay Banga. Image Courtesy: Reuters
SummaryBeing comfortable with identity is critical to succeed in life, said Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga.

India-born Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga has said that his turban and beard make him stand out in a crowd and has undergone random searches at US airports even though he runs a global company, underscoring the need for diversity in the multi-racial country.

He was invited to deliver the 2014 commencement address at New York University Stern School of Business's convocation ceremony where he underscored the importance of diversity.

Banga said even though he has felt different from others, he realised early in life that being comfortable with his identity and working hard is critical to succeed in life.

"My passion for diversity comes from the fact that I am diverse. To state the obvious, I tend to stand out in a room Ė turbans and beards will do that to you. You stand out in a room," 54-year-old Banga told a large audience of students, faculty and parents.

Shaking his head, he however said, "My part-time hobby is being 'randomly' searched by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at airports. It is true. And I run a global company. That's not exactly common for someone who looks like me. And I can tell you there have been a hundred times when Iíve felt different from everybody else in the room."

Banga told the graduating MBAs that he had realised very early in his career that if he was not comfortable with himself, he could not succeed.

"It's critical that you figure out who you are and be comfortable with it. What is important is what you do and how you do it, not where you come from or what†you look like. Thatís going to be very important for your future," he said.

Stressing on the importance of diversity in life and work place, Banga said diversity drives better insights, better decisions and better products.

"It's the backbone of innovation. It's what defines a great leadership culture... So, a sense of urgency, a sense of balance, deep courage, and competitive†paranoia Ė all of these are tremendously facilitated if you surround yourself with people who don't look like you, don't walk like you, don't talk like you, and donít†have the same experiences as you.

"And why is that so important? Because a group of similar people tends to think in similar ways, reach similar conclusions, and have similar blind spots," Banga said.

Reminiscing his days at business school, Banga said he enjoyed his time, "perhaps a little too much" at IIM-Ahmedabad

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