Mastercard’s Ajay Banga crowned 2021’s global brand guardian
While he may not be the most well-known CEO worldwide – that title goes to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook – Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard for more than a decade before becoming executive chairman of the board of directors last year, is certainly one of the most admired and respected.
And his crowning as 2021’s number one brand guardian by Brand Finance as part of the annual Global 500 report is in recognition of his quiet but impactful achievements throughout his decade-long role as CEO and president of the global financial services giant.
Since taking the helm of Mastercard in 2009, US-based Banga has embraced technological innovation, ensuring the brand remained relevant despite a period of rapid change in financial services. Furthermore, he has championed the idea of financial inclusion, and has leveraged his influence to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions worldwide to help fight poverty.
Having previously served as a member of President Obama’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, Banga is co-founder of The Cyber Readiness Institute and serves as a director of Dow Inc. He has secured a number of awards, namely the Ellis Island Medal of Honor 2019 and the Business Council for International Understanding’s Global Leadership Award.
Top 10 brand guardian winners 2021
Both companies have witnessed significant growth and penetration. While US graphics and chip-maker Nvidia has seen rapid brand value growth, Netflix surpassed 200 million subscribers for the first in January this year and continues to invest billions of dollars in original content development. And while Huang is renowned for his philanthropic gestures, Hastings is known for his ‘no rules’ rules workplace policy leading to an open and non-hierarchical structure.
According to David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have “required resolve and vision to safeguard - and in some cases, grow” company brands and some leaders, like Banga, have risen to the occasion.
Other leaders recognised in the top 10 for their brand guardianship included Alibaba.com’s Yong Zhang, the highest-ranking brand guardian of a non-US company, as well as Salesforce’s Mark Benioff, Honda’s Takahiro Hachigo and TCS’ Rajesh Gopinathan.
Women leaders have poor representation
Out of the 100 brand guardians recognised in Brand Finance’s annual report, 48 were CEOs of US companies, 25 from East Asia and 17 from Europe.
Only eight of the top 100 brand guardians are female, the result of female leadership in major corporations across the globe, although this is up from only four last year, with Susan Patricia Griffith of US insurance company Progressive taking the highest-ranking female brand guardian position at 28th.
According to Annie Brown, Associate at Brand Finance, the 8% representation of women in the Brand Guardianship Index 100 reflects the total sample which also was 8% female. “Women are equally capable of being exceptional leaders and it is about time that boardrooms reflect that,” states Brown.
When it comes to industry-specific brand guardians, the highest-ranking CEO in the banking sector is Citigroup's Mike Corbat, while in oil & gas, the credit goes to H.E. Dr Sultan Al Jaber of ADNOC, whose transformation under the astute leadership of Al Jaber since 2016 has taken the brand from strength to strength, attracting some of the world’s leading institutional investors as partners and raising more than US$64 billion since the start of its transformation.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”