Meet the Boss: Raghu Malhotra, president Middle East & Africa, MasterCard

Raghu Malhotra

Raghu Malhotra

1. What was your first job?

What many people don’t know is that during college I had an internship with an advertising agency, and even did a bit of modelling on the side. In 1992 I joined CitiCorp Credit (part of global bank Citigroup), which really gave me my first taste of the corporate world. Later I worked for a number of companies in the consumer franchise and financial services industries, including American Express.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Working in the technology sector I am exposed daily to the incredible speed at which the world around us is changing. The challenge is to keep up with this evolution and stay relevant. This is predominantly evident in the Middle East and Africa markets, where technology has the power to transform economies and enable people to live better lives. What really keeps me up at night is the importance of what we are doing at MasterCard, and the responsibility of that transformation.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

My father has been my biggest inspiration and motivator. He was wise as he didn’t try to direct me, but rather allowed me to gain the wisdom I needed through his own life experiences. He taught me to believe in myself and showed me how to achieve my personal and professional goals. Being a war veteran, who was shot in his leg, he never gave up and understood that living life to the fullest is the best way to face adversaries and he ensured he passed on this invaluable insight to me – something I have taught my own children.

4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

A pharmaceutical company’s CEO once told me “travel light”. At the beginning I took it literally – but the more and more I thought about it in a business context, the more I gained perspective. It means move fast, be agile and nimble, don’t over analyse things and act quickly. This is a very valuable advice in the fast-paced and changing world we operate in.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

Realising early in my career that the ‘bar’ always changes and is raised, has ensured that I always push myself to even greater heights. Another tip I give my team is to always remain objective, you make less mistakes if you approach things with a level head. But, what drives me after so many years in business is the importance of transferring skills – it is one of the reasons why I love working at MasterCard. We place a great deal of focus on empowering our people through knowledge-sharing.

6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

It must be a combination of both. School brings discipline and the job provides the drive. School will prepare your mind to think, to work hard and work with people from different backgrounds. On the other hand, there is no better life skill than that learnt from experience. Making mistakes on the job and learning from them is something you can simply not teach someone. Finding your own approach, point of view and drive is achieved when you get into the real world and are exposed to the realities of the business sector. You simply don’t stop learning and my time at university was only the first step. The rest came when I started out on my career path. I have been fortunate to work for organisations that have valued mentorship and training.

7. How do you relax?

When I work I am focused, but when I am with my family I am totally present. The importance of a work-life balance is critical for your personal growth. My one escape is reading, especially science and fiction books – interesting how fiction books are combining imagination with facts, which makes for very exciting reading. I also love spending time on the golf course.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

Being an employee of a multinational company means I have colleagues all over the world. Each day is unique and different and it totally depends on where I am in the world. What I believe in is making the best of the day and of my time.

9. Your favorite job interview question?

We are an evolving and dynamic company and what is needed in a specific job might be less critical in another. Still, one of my favorite interview question will be a scenario question which will help discover a person’s level of thinking and approach – I like to see how people are able to think on their feet.

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself, and make sure you share your experiences and knowledge with people around you. Africans have a unique opportunity – innovation is central to the way people live on the continent and therefore they can show the rest of the world how to turn potential into reality.

Raghu Malhotra is president for the Middle East and Africa at MasterCard.