Chicago, IL,
16:31 PM

The Power of Human Connections

Noor Sugrue Interviews Rick Haythornthwaite, Former Chairman of MasterCard


Noor talked to Rick Haythornthwaite on 2nd December 2020. Rick stepped down from MasterCard on 31st December 2020.

When I first imagined Vintro, it was about helping to connect people to the business leaders who can help them. Little did I know then that I would have the opportunity to talk to some amazing and inspirational leaders.

I want to share some of my experiences through a series of thought pieces about the power of human connections from some of the people I have been lucky enough to meet. I talked to Rick Haythornthwaite just before he stepped down as the Chairman of MasterCard. The connections Rick first made at university helped him through his whole life.

I began by asking him how important it was for the world that we found a way for those without networks to be found and heard?

"It's vital, we have got to break down barriers. We are facing such enormous challenges today, whether it's reinventing capitalism through to solving the Sustainable Development Goals, we need every single idea there is, from every single person. And I recognise, that I've been enormously charmed in my career to date. When I looked for opportunities, I looked for openings, I found them quite quickly. That’s not the same for everyone. But the glorious thing is, technology is here. And technology is extremely democratising. We can make support, funding, whatever it is, available to everybody. But we've got to just find ways to make that happen efficiently and very visibly."

Q: What can Business leaders do to help that, what role can they play?

“Businesses are in a fantastic position to drive change. But they've got to do so with a humility that says we can't solve all these issues on our own, and that we need to draw in as many people as we can to help us solve these problems. And I think this has been helped by the pandemic,

“Business leaders recognise that we have to have an entrepreneurially led recovery, that large businesses really are the custodians of many of the problems, but they can't solve them all." And therefore business leaders have got to open up the challenges to the broadest possible community, help mentor, help guide the entrepreneurs and the aspiring entrepreneurs to sources of inspiration, sources of funding, sources of talent, whatever is required to help turn ideas into reality."

Q: There may be business leaders who want to help, but that of course is different from actually being accessible?

“The one great thing about the COVID crisis is that the leaders are stepping forward, they know that they have got to help young people, entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, give them a leg up, help them help themselves to solve these challenges. And it's one thing knowing that you want to do that, it's another thing, knowing how, and there's just insufficient accessibility insufficient connection between the willing and the needy here. And we've got to do something about that."

Q: I loved your address last year at the World Economic Forum last year on how people carry their imagination through the rest of their life and how technology can be a toolkit for young people to turn their ideas into a reality. Can you talk a little bit about what you what you meant about this, and why you're so passionate about it?

“Well, the first thing is that I have the delight of being a grandfather. So it reminds me that actually kids are born with imagination and my grandkids are not unique in that respect. There's many of them born every year. And the first thing we've got to do is stop driving it out of them through the education system. And any way technology can help, then great. I think that too many people get buried in the present. And technology can help in many ways, it can help release people from the present mundanity of their life, it can help nurture ideas, inspire ideas, and develop ideas, help deliver those ideas. It can help collaborate, everything you need to do. But the most important thing is augmenting the human imagination, it's not driving subjugation, which seems to be the vision of too many people right now. We have brilliant people everywhere on this earth. And unfortunately, we're burying them under some pretty mundane stuff, let's use technology to release that and make the most of their potential."

Q: I know from my own experience how crucial it is for business leaders to be mentoring and offering support to the younger generation, how do you think leaders can better help with this?

“The first thing is recognise that mentoring is different from coaching. Mentoring is actually bringing your wealth of experience to help people and actually not being shy in talking about that experience. And I think people can get a great deal from what you're doing, not only your successes, but your failures as well. And I enjoy discussing that, and helping people. But it's got to be more than that. I think the two other things that are really important are, first go open some doors, don't just talk about it, do it for them.

"And the second thing is encourage a hinterland. I think too many people are so focused on getting business done. If you're looking for inspiration, there are so many places look for it. Yes, in conversations with other others, but in the arts, in music and theatre and poetry and books. Open that up, because in the end, if you're going to make a break here, it's going to be through inspiration, ideas from all sorts of quarters. And I think that mentors can help people take the scales from their eyes in these regards."

Q: And what role does capitalism have in this? How can we encourage a responsible capitalism, to help inspire people and unleash their imagination?

“Capitalism is a brilliant system, if it's run properly. It brings the right resources to the right problems and in the right quantities. In effect, that's what markets do. I think it's just stepping back and saying - look, how do we reboot growth? Let's try and find new ways of growth that balance the short and long term, balance people and the planet and, let's just try to bring the problems to as many people as we can.

"This brings us back to what can business do? Business can surface all those opportunities. This trend towards purposeful business is very powerful. It's not just a fad. It's not just an aphorism. It's vital. It's leaders saying that in the end, we can only run healthy businesses in a healthy society.

"So let's work out what we have to do, what we can do as a business to help further that cause. And then let's lay those challenges out for as many people as possible for as many young people as possible, in particular, to come through and help us solve those problems."

Q: It’s hard not talk about COVID and the even bigger challenge for young people to start their careers. I hear it among my friends in my peer groups, the stress about going into the workforce. What would be your advice to them?

“There’s a great phrase by David Bowie, which says tomorrow belongs to those people that can hear it coming. And I think you've just got to be listening hard for the future. And the first thing to do is don't be a victim. Just refuse to be a victim, however tough it gets, refuse. And then say, Okay, how do I get on the front foot. And that's all about seeking the sources of imagination, seeking inspiration. Start as many conversations as you can, you never know which conversations are going to take you places, so don't stop."

Q: But when people are starting those conversations, starting them are really hard, how should people go about doing that?

“In those conversations, think destination, not route. Just declare a future, declare a destination. It maybe I want to go and solve a Sustainable Development Goal, it maybe I just want to build a billion dollar business, it doesn't matter what it is. But if you've got a destination in those conversations it's amazing what you start to hear in terms of solutions, and options and possibilities. And if you're thinking destination, not route, you're flexible, you're adaptable, you're able to think about how this can guide you through. And in those conversations, just listen, you don't need to talk.

“What I can promise you today is that people are looking for ways to help you if there's anything that's great about this pandemic is a realisation that this is tough for young people right now, this is nothing like it was in my day. So I'm not going to compare to where I was, when I was young. You know, we talked 'I had a privilege start I could get opportunity, it's different now. But there are a lot of people out there that want to help you. And in there, I think technology is going to provide good routes, in terms of access to contacts, but also access to information, access to mentoring, access to opportunity, and therefore seize any opportunity to use technology. If you can, in the end, it does come down to good old human relationships.”

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