20 Questions With Mastercard CFO Sachin Mehra
Sachin Mehra is the CFO of Mastercard, where he has risen through the ranks for a decade following a global career that included stints at General Motors and Hess Corp. in locations including New York, Belgium, Singapore and China.
But his path to the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company certainly wasn’t fate. In fact, he was ready to board a plane to work for his father at the family business in India following Darden graduation. That is, until (as Mehra might describe it) destiny intervened. Read more to learn about Mehra’s take on fate, destiny and life in the C-suite.
1. What was your first job?
Working in textile manufacturing with my family business in India.
2. What’s the best advice you have ever received?
There are two. One is, whenever making important decisions, make them at the right time, place and circumstance. If all of those are right, you will invariably make the right decision.
Second: Expand yourself to adjacent spaces. This was career advice I got from one of Mastercard’s board members. The point he was making is that you have a day job. What you do at your day job is table stakes. How you step out and do more is what sets you apart.
3. What motivates you?
An environment in which people come to work every day with their hearts and minds set on advancing the business with a family business mentality. What drives me is when people bring their best to work every day, and they are passionate about moving the ball forward.
4. When and where do you do your best thinking?
I do my best thinking early in the morning before I go to work.
5. What’s been on your mind lately?
My son getting in to college. He is a junior in high school. It’s top of mind for every discussion at home right now.
6. What are you reading these days?
A lot of 10-Qs and 10-Ks (laughs).
What I spend a lot of time reading is business journals. That’s where I am most focused: what’s going on in the technology world, best practices from a corporate social responsibility standpoint. I’m trying to get more into truly understanding the role of a corporation and what will be the expectations of society 10 years from now.
7. What technology can you not live without?
My iPad. It’s become such an integral part of your life.
8. What’s your motto?
I have two. One of them has been more consistent with how I feel about life in general. I’m a big believer in what you meet in life is destiny, how you meet it is free will. My life has played out in that manner. Your destiny might be what is presented to you, but you have the opportunity to shape it. I say that to my kids all the time.
The second: Output is important, but outcome is really important.
9. How do you deal with conflict?
There are some people who shy away from conflict, there are others who are conflict, then there are those who take conflict head on but have different styles of how they take it on. I put my style in the third bucket. I give the other person the benefit of stating their piece first for why they feel a particular way, then I use a stream of questioning to better understand where they are coming form or use that to have them better understand my point of view. So rather than feel threatened, you lead them to the place you want to go.
It works very effectively for me. I will tell you it requires high energy, but it does help build trust and long-term relationships.
10. What characteristics do you look for in people?
I’m a big believer that you can teach curious people anything and everything. I tell employees all the time, you don’t need to know everything in your first position. Ask a lot of questions. People as a matter of human nature are good and will go out of their way for you, if you ask them questions in the right way. Be vulnerable.
11. How do you unwind?
Quality time with my family and playing golf. And in that order of priority. My kids are growing up fast. Soon, they’re going to be out of the house, and I will be seeking them out as opposed to them seeking me out.
12. What is your favorite cause?
There is an institution in India called Toybank. My son introduced me to them. They serve underprivileged children in India who don’t have access to something every child should have: Toys, books, etc., to educate children through the power of play.
My family goes back to India every year. This year, my son spent time over the summer with these kids, and came back home with a light in his eyes. It really woke me up to the power of what they were doing.
13. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
Singapore. It’s near and dear to my heart. After Darden, I started at General Motors in New York, and after four years, I had the opportunity to move to Singapore. My daughter was born there, so it has a special place in my heart because we were there when she arrived in this world. It brings together the best of the east and west, and it’s a great place to raise children.
14. What do you lose sleep over?
I actually sleep pretty well. I have been so fortunate in my life, and life has always been more than fair to me. I have always had the mindset that every day presents a different challenge, and as long as you’re nimble enough to tackle it, we’ll be ok. Live in the moment.
15. Which class at Darden impacted you the most?
If you asked me immediately after graduating from Darden, I would have told you “Bargaining and Negotiating.” Ask me today, and I will tell you “Organizational Behavior” with Professor Lynn Isabella. Sitting where I do, I can get three-quarters of my battles solved by having the right people in the right jobs.
16. Describe a moment when you realized the true value of your Darden education.
I grew up in India in a family business. India is a place where, culturally, there is a tremendous amount of respect for authority and age. The way of teaching is more of a lecturing style than a participating style. Coming to Darden opened my eyes to the fact there is great value to discussion and dialogue through the case method. It taught me that engagement, dialogue and discussion with people of authority is not tantamount to disrespect, as long as you do it the right way.
It also taught me that you might be smartest person with the most brilliant IQ, but EQ and DQ matter more than IQ. What will set you apart in today’s society is your emotional intelligence quotient, how you read people and interact with your community, and DQ, which is your decency quotient and in my opinion is diminishing very rapidly in today’s society. The case study environment forces you to engage with your EQ and DQ. You have to have frequent interactions with your classmates and sit with them all evening in small rooms. That to me is a life lesson that has played out well in the workplace.
17. What’s your favorite Darden memory?
Viking parties. That will resonate with those who graduated in the early to mid-90s.
18. Darden was your first experience in the United States after growing up in India. How did you choose to pursue a career in the U.S.?
I came to business school with the express intent to go back and work with my family business. Between First and Second Year, I went home and worked with my dad. As a Second Year, I never looked for a job.
My brother [Rajan Mehra (MBA ’93)] called me on graduation day to congratulate me. He asked, “Now what are you going to do with your life?” I told him I was going to get on a plane to go back to India. My brother said that’s what is expected of you, but what do you want to do? It woke me up. I asked my parents to give me six months to find a job, and if I can’t get a job, I will come home. It was that graduation day conversation that led me down my current path.
19. How has life changed now that you’re in the CFO seat at Mastercard?
Life hasn’t really changed. I was very familiar with the company. I’ve been here for about 10 years. I’ve worked in business and finance roles. A large reason as to why I feel this way is because of the excellent training and mentorship I received from the former Mastercard CFO, Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88).
20. Apple made big news launching its Apple Card, but Mastercard is providing the global payments network support. What does this partnership say about the big picture for Mastercard?
Mastercard is a leading player in the fintech space. We have been in this space for the longest time. We bring a ton of value, everything from our technology to service capabilities to ubiquitous reach. Similar to the work we are doing with Apple, we have established very good partnerships with companies such as Paypal, Venmo and Square, to name a few. We leverage our technology and global reach to bring value to partners, bring our services capabilities to bear, and proactively engage with customers on a day-to-day basis to problem solve.