The Indian American business executive, CEO and President of Master Card, Ajaypal Singh Banga (Ajay) is one of the many Sikhs in the world who are frequently stopped for random checking at various airports and often stared for how different they look. Son of an Army General from India, Ajay joined Nestle after completing his Masters of Business Administration from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and has held various key senior management positions for various well known brands in the world.
Given his long corporate journey of more than 30 years working with Nestle, PepsiCo, Citi and Mastercard, Ajay has been a frequent international traveler all his work life. Meeting people from various parts of the world who have no or little knowledge about Sikhism, he has been asked several times about why he looks like the way he looks. His turban has been an object of curiosity among his friends and colleagues.
Image source: President’s Secretariat, Government of India
Instead of feeling conscious and losing confidence, Ajay calls it as a ‘ great conversation starter’ where he has ended up making friends with people who wanted to know more about his religion. A fantastic speaker who is invited to various top events in the world and has joined US Presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump from time to time on various business related talks in America, Ajay admits to sticking out a mile due to his appearance.
He advises today’s youth to be comfortable in their skin and be confident instead of worrying about what people think about them. In an interview at Stanford Graduate School of Business, he mentioned about how life became complicated for him after 9/11. He faced verbal abuse many times while on his way to work and how the management at Citi offered to send him a car and let him use company’s plane for his travel, to avoid the inconvenience that surfaced for Sikhs across the world after 9/11.
Highlighting the goodness in the world, he says 99.5% feel deeply for you when you are abused like this, while the percentage of people who attack and abuse is only 0.5%.
Setting a great example for young Sikh generation, who sometimes choose to get rid of their turban in an attempt to fit in the crowd, Ajay has proved among other successful Sikh business leaders in the world that you can be yourself and lead a fortune 500 company. Proudly carrying his turban and attending top events with eminent personalities all over the world, he is undoubtedly an inspiration for youth globally.
A recipient of Padma Shri from Government of India among various other honors and a member of illustrious advisory boards and international business forums, Ajay is a role model for millions of youth across the world. Being one of the greatest advocates of diversity and equality in the world, in Banga’s words: “my passion for diversity comes from the fact that I am diverse. With a beard and a turban,I stand out in a room.”
He says “to succeed, it doesn’t matter where you came from and what you look like. What matters is what you do and how you do.”