A few years ago, Ajay Banga, president and CEO of Mastercard, was searching for a concise way to describe his approach to community outreach and other social impact initiatives. Employees, he says, were constantly asking him what criteria he applied when, say, deciding to send supplies and volunteers in the wake of the hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico. At one town hall he blurted out the term “DQ,” short for “decency quotient.” The term stuck.
“If you put it into language that people can colloquially understand, it becomes much easier for people to embrace,” Banga says.
A growing number of CEOs are searching for ways to show that they care about more than boosting profits and stock prices. In late August, the heads of the world’s biggest businesses signed a new statement of purpose, saying they would lead their companies to benefit customers, employees, suppliers, and community—a tacit acknowledgement that capitalism, in its current form, isn’t working well for anyone other than shareholders.
I spoke to Banga last week at a summit on inclusive capitalism, cohosted by the Aspen Institute and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. (Disclosure: I moderated a session at the summit, which covered my travel costs.) He is quick to point out that corporations can’t ignore profitability, but he says CEOs also need to confront anxiety and mistrust among consumers and employees who feel disenfranchised by everything from automation to globalization to climate change. For him, a “decency quotient” is a way of telling employees to treat their coworkers and community the way they’d want to be treated. “Put your hand on my back, don’t put it in my face,” he says. “Give me a level playing field. Give me a chance to win.”
Banga spoke at length about making sure employees have sufficient retirement savings. “There is no way that 401(k)s, social security, and the like can keep you alive once you retire,” he says. “The math doesn’t work.” Last year the company increased its 401(k) contribution to $1.67 for every dollar a U.S. employee puts in, up to $6% of base salary, up from $1.25 for every dollar saved. “Companies can help to solve this retirement gap issue,” he says. “That, to me, is one of the biggest social problems in this country.”
He has also poured Mastercard’s 2018 tax savings (from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act) into a series of projects, including the creation of an Impact Fund that will support “economic growth for everyone.”
Banga, who has increased Mastercard’s stock price more than 13-fold since becoming CEO in July 2010, told the summit attendees that he viewed DQ as part of Mastercard’s culture. “You can’t win [as a company] by standing on someone else’s shoulders and beating their head in. That to me is not winning, that’s just crude schoolyard bullying. And right now we have a lot of crude schoolyard bullying going on. We need to find that decency inside ourselves and start talking about how we can all do this together.”