Rajiv Garodia has racked up over two decades’ work at the world’s major payment firms, travelling to almost every continent in his career. But growing up in a small town in India, it was the local British Council office - “this charming place in the middle of a chaotic small town” which played, he says, “a big role in my life by inspiring my interest in learning, literature - I started on Enid Blyton at its libraries, then moved onto Shakespeare- and my love for the English language.” Today Garodia is Visa’s Global Head of real-time payments; he’s also been Managing Director of international business at Mastercard business Vocalink, Head of the Middle East and South Asia business for Western Union and CEO of FinTech start-up Pay By Bank App. But his new, Nurole-appointed NED role has taken him back to his roots - Garodia is the British Council’s newest Independent Member of the Commercial Committee. Here he talks about bringing commercial acumen to a public body - and why his career dream is, one day, to perhaps become a maths teacher.
You’ve worked across the globe - including at offices Dubai, India, and London and in roles that have taken you to the US and South America - what lessons did that international outlook teach you?
That each culture is different, and you need to accept that before working abroad. If you want to take a product or service international, you need to remember that the world is complicated, and the same product or service or marketing idea rarely works everywhere. You need to accept each geography is different and people look at goods or services in a different way.
On a personal level, I also learnt that being a vegetarian is still very difficult in parts of Spain, France, and South America! It’s getting a lot better but in large parts of the world you don’t find anything on the menu and have to live off salads!
As CEO of Pay By Bank App, you worked on technology aimed at disrupting the traditional card systems - what part of start-up mentality do you think boards should adopt?
I worked in large corporates before I went into the start-up environment, and I think what contrasted the most was the element of resilience embedded in start-ups. There’s a sense of, you just don’t know how it will go, if the idea will take off, so most people involved have this resilience in their DNA of coming back every day, not being majorly affected by huge ups and downs.
I think some boards could take lessons from that: they’re often dealing with companies going through disruptive times, yet are set up with quite a conservative order and structure. There’s sometimes a need to be more flexible, where the focus can be totally different from one board meeting to another.
You’ve worked in the payments sector for the vast majority of your career - can you see yourself veering into any other industry?
It’s probably a pipe dream but for some time the idea of being a maths teacher has been in my head. I love the subject, I have two teenage kids and learning maths with them has been extremely interesting - plus I find it really rewarding trying to encourage them to love the subject, and I would love to do it on a broader basis. But who knows!
As part of the board of the British Council, what do you want to bring to the organisation?
It’s a fascinating organisation - it’s the cultural arm of the UK - with very deep routes in the countries it operates, and I feel a big sense of responsibility in my role. The British Council is going through a period of rapid change at some of its commercial arms, which are moving towards digitalisation. Having worked in the FinTech side, I hope to bring some thinking into how that world is changing. Also, the British Council is a very global organisation and, having worked in many parts of the world, I hope to help with insight into different markets.
You’ve been to two board meetings so far - how different are you finding the experience compared to your executive board roles?
I’d never worked in the public sector before, which was some of the appeal of the British Council role - it’s a commercial entity but also has a lot of public sector responsibilities, and works within the public sector framework for things like decision making; even areas like recruitment and compensation are different. So it’s been a huge learning experience with very different governance. Before my first meeting, I had meetings with different leaders in the business, and they did a great job of briefing me before my first commercial agenda meeting - helping me get up to speed, and telling me what went on at previous meetings. They were extremely patient with me!
If you had to invest in a new financial business today, what area would you opt for?
I recently mentored an Indian content start-up: it helps people make better decisions around purchases. With all the huge choice out there online comes greater complexity, and helping consumers navigate that was an interesting proposition. We live very busy lives and we need help.
How have you found the Nurole experience?
I was referred by a friend who’d had a great experience with them; I signed up and started looking at the posts on offer when I was in between roles - I’d left Mastercard at the end of 2017 and thought it was a good time to explore my NED role, something I could not focus on before. The British Council role ticked all my boxes - and the childhood link made it extra interesting for me. I think Nurole runs a great platform; it makes it easy to apply and the team behind it do a really good job of keeping you informed of the process as it runs.
Let’s finish with a few quick-fire questions...
What’s the best professional advice you would give?
What was your biggest break?
Finding my first great mentor when I was at Western Union. Early in your career, finding someone who helps you get better at your job and helps you to make career choices is an extremely fortunate thing to happen.
What are you reading now?
Chimamanda Adichie’s Americana.
An old Indian proverb: focus on the work and don’t worry about the results.
What do you do to have fun?
Hang out with my two teenagers.
What’s your favourite app?
I’m trying to reduce my reliance on apps - I deleted a few, I’m trying to reduce my digital time.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
I wake up at 6am; I do like to get 7 hours.
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