International Finance
Magazine May - June 2018 On the Job

ON THE JOB with Manoj Adlakha

The SVP & CEO, American Express Banking Corp., India talks about the challenges and thrills of helming a crucial role at a major retail bank

Can you tell us about your role in American Express?

As CEO of American Express Banking Corp., India, I have the good fortune to lead the business in India in one of the most exciting times in our history. We are one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands, and millions of loyal customers who depend on us to have their back.

According to Boston Consulting Group, the digital payments sector in India is estimated to grow to US$500bn by 2020, and representing around 15% of GDP. There is a large untapped market opportunity to move Indians to cashless, as currently mere 9-10% of transactions are conducted electronically. As the world’s largest global payments network, driving more than US$1tn in commerce annually, we believe we are strongly poised to capitalise on this opportunity.

As a CEO, I am responsible for managing the growth of American Express in one of the most dynamic and fast evolving payments market in the world. In addition to the overall success of the business in India, I am also responsible for leading the development and execution of long-term strategies with the goal of increasing shareholder value. I’m committed to continue our growth and expanding our industry leadership.

What are the challenges you face on a daily basis and how do you deal with them?

Coping with a volatile environment is a common challenge to many leaders. War for talent, innovation, and regulatory interventions are some of the challenges that keep me going. It is very important to stay agile and plan to deal with challenges like these. Leaders, who face complex problems need to focus on being enablers and facilitators of nimble, agile teams who experiment with focused interventions, gather lots of feedback, rapidly learn, adapt, build and test out the next iteration. What I am proud of is that American Express has always stood for values. It is important to have strong values because only then can you begin to lead others.

What is your secret mantra to ensure your growth and development as a leader?

The future is about adopting a growth mindset. To succeed in this new age we need to have the courage and the will to change. It is very important that leaders build a culture of growth mindset to drive performance. Over the years I have realized that a leader’s growth and success depend on how he/she manages talent in the organization and helps them grow. For me, the key has been agility, courage, curiosity, inclusiveness and innovation that has held me in good stead throughout my career and helped me develop as a leader.

How do you motivate and inspire your team daily despite hiccups or setbacks?

As a leader, it’s your job to lead your team to greatness. Being the leader of a team is a huge responsibility, regardless of whether you’re the CEO or a department head. Every leader has his/her unique way of motivating the team. Some of the things that I do to motivate my team are:

  • Provide a vision and purpose: Creating an inspiring vision gives your team a purpose and something they can look forward to, and something they can work towards.

  • Set stretch goals: It is very important to have stretch goals for your teams. That will motivate them to work harder and achieve those goals and help the organisation grow and ensure personal growth.

  • Lead by example: Working hard, professional integrity and a can-do attitude are the qualities that always have a positive impact on your team members.

  • Trust the team: Leaders, who inspire trust, garner better output, morale, retention, innovation, loyalty, and growth for the company and people. Trust is an important factor in achieving the goals you have outlined for the team.

  • Empower team members: When you give team members the power or authority to do something with complete control, this helps to motivate them to achieve the goals or your vision. Constructive feedback from time to time results in an empowered, happier, and more productive team.

  • Reward: When you praise one person in from of others, it encourages them to work harder or perform better. When a reward is linked to a performance, individuals will work even harder and will be more committed to their task.

  • Having their back: It is very important that you watch out for your team in crisis and ensure that you help them out if they falter. It is equally important to give constructive feedback to help them achieve their goals and that you are there watching out for them.

How do you power through hectic days?

Planning your day is very critical and if you love your work then that will be enough to power through the day very easily. A highly engaged and motivated team also helps you to look forward to the start of the day. Listening to music helps me unwind. Looking forward to the weekend when I can spend time with my family and friends also gives me that extra impetus to do a good job.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your daily stress levels?

Stress levels could be high depending on situations – what is important is not to get fettered by it. I am a diehard optimist and believe that it’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

What is your pre-work day routine?

I’m a morning person and find it good to get started early — that’s when I’m most focused. The first thing I do in the morning is to go for a walk and try to introspect. I check my mails soon after, just to make sure that there aren’t any major needs or questions or outreach from business partners or colleagues. Then I scan the news, which has become a habit now. I have a relatively long commute to office and that gives me ample time to think. It’s good to be locked up for a while because I get time for myself to do nothing other than reading and I try to organize what I really want to accomplish during the day. I generally try to get into the office by 8:30 AM.

What was the pivotal moment in your career?

I have had a few impediments in my career. One, I vividly recall was 10 years ago when I took a break from corporate life to start my entrepreneurial venture which folded within a year. But the learnings from the failed venture made me more self-aware and developed more resilience in my character. I feel these two traits have been instrumental in defining the next chapter of my career.

Share with us top five tips that make a successful CEO of a bank.

  • Quick decision making & dreaming big

  • The ability to deal with uncertainty

  • Adaptive and high level of curiosity
  • Clear purpose and vision

  • Empower to succeed

What is your message for business leaders in the making?

Leadership is a precious gift and we must value it. A good leader has to have strong values and leads by example. He/She has to have an eye for detail without losing sight of the big picture. The person should be willing to take challenges. The ability to carry your team along with yourself is a vital leadership trait.

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