Please describe your business and your role as a CEO?
American Express is a global, diversified financial services company. We are the world’s largest issuer of credit cards by volume of transactions and operate in more than 90 countries, connecting merchants and users on our global payments network. We provide our customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success.
For the past seven years, I have had the honor of leading American Express’ payments and loyalty businesses, primarily in India. Going forward, I will be assume responsibility for identifying acquisition opportunities in our international markets, in addition to oversight for India as well as bank partnerships in the subcontinent and ANZ.
What is the big idea behind your business/What are the inherent challenges in your sectors?
We are an integrated, “closed loop” payments business. That means we issue payment products, like credit and charge cards, to consumers and businesses and we operate a network of accepting merchants around the world. Our customers value our superior service as well as our Membership Rewards loyalty program.
As we issue cards and acquire merchants on our proprietary payments network, we become a platform that connects buyers and sellers, driving not just payments but also commerce and loyalty. Like many businesses, we are challenged around the world with the disruptive effects of technology, regulation and economic cycles.
It’s often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?
It’s easy to lead with a tailwind but VUCA ( volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) is increasingly becoming the operating reality for many leaders.
For me, managing volatility has meant developing a level of emotional and interpersonal intelligence in addition to mental preparedness. When change happens, people look first to leaders to see how they react, to seek direction. They don’t want to hear their leaders say, “excuse me, this is totally unexpected, I don’t know what to do next!” Leaders are expected to say, “here’s what we know about the situation, here’s what we’re going to do and here’s why”
A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What is your prime focus for retaining customers and acquiring new ones?
For American Express, it’s all about delivering world class services and servicing as a unique, credible and sustainable source of differentiation. You have to bring value to your customers’ lives by understanding their expectations, investing in what’s important to them, anticipating their needs and creating relevance.
Please describe your corporate experience and the journey. What was your first paying job?
I have been with American Express for over 30 years, spanning many areas of the company. I was instrumental in launching the first American Express Card in India and set up our global servicing operations in the market before relocating to New York. I ran the American Express merchant network in 22 countries around the world after which I headed the commercial payments business in the US. After returning to India in mid 2010, I was instrumental in developing the One India model. This was a unique approach that integrated all of our businesses here under common leadership, and helped accelerate business growth. While I’m proud of many things in my career journey, identifying and developing leadership talent is something I’m proudest of. My first paying job was at Asian Paints, where I worked for a brief period before joining American Express.
Do you have a formal mechanism for making sure you stay in touch with employees and customers on the organization’s front line?
All leaders in American Express are held materially accountable to the voice of the customer and the voice of the employee. It’s not something we just pay lip service to. Collectively, employee and customer health has as much, sometimes even greater, weight on scorecards as financial health. We have been ranked as one of the World’s Most Valuable Brands by Forbes magazine and as one of the Best Global Brands by Interbrand. Closer home, since 2015 we have been ranked as the “Most Trusted Credit Card Brand” by Brand Trust.
We have been honored by the Great Place to work institute as one of India’s top ten places to work, continuously for a decade.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard?
“Rewrite the rules, but retain your values”. We have very strong pillars of trust, integrity, and service that have defined American Express’ legacy and will continue to shape our future.
What are the values you espouse in/as a Leader?
A leader must be the embodiment of his/her company values. The personal traits I value in leaders are a sense of vision, a personal growth mindset, openness and approachability, positive energy, and trust based relationships with partners and employees.
What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?
To me, career progression is defined by how well you are doing relative to your potential. The key career strategy questions to ask are; Are your personal values in synch with the company you’re working in? Are you in an area that’s making a meaningful contribution to your company? Is it something that you really want to do or have to do? Do you have the tools to do your job well? If you’re successful, is there a series of next steps you can see?