Transitions of power don't happen more quietly than the one at MasterCard International four months ago.
The passing of the reins to Robert W. Selander made no noise in the world outside MasterCard's suburban New York headquarters.
Even inside, an initial flurry of questions and concerns about the new boss, natural in any organization at such times, dissipated quickly as normalcy was reasserted.
"No black holes, no holy grail, few big surprises"-that was how president and chief executive officer Selander described what others might call business as usual.
The uneventfulness reflected Mr. Selander's low-key demeanor and his commitment to staying the established course.
It was also by design, primarily that of Mr. Selander's predecessor, H. Eugene Lockhart, and the MasterCard directors who ratified his strategy and succession plan.
When Mr. Lockhart moved to BankAmerica Corp. in early May as president of global retail banking, Mr. Selander eased into the spacious, window- lined CEO corner in Purchase, N.Y., exactly according to the plan announced eight weeks before.
Perhaps Mr. Lockhart, just three years into a tenure that most in the industry thought would last much longer, felt he owed his constituents the smoothest of handovers. With characteristic thoroughness, he orchestrated the transfer of authority to the man he called in from Citicorp in late 1994 for some crucial international assignments.
"Energy will not be wasted speculating over my successor," Mr. Lockhart vowed at the time.
Mr. Selander had delivered as president for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Canada, most notably by helping negotiate a deeper and closer alliance with MasterCard's European affiliate, Europay International. Mr. Selander knew the landscape; one of his jobs in 20 years with Citibank was as chief of staff for European consumer activities in Brussels, near Europay's base.
The European progress cemented his status as Mr. Lockhart's top lieutenant, won favorable notice from the board, and made him a shoo-in for the top spot.
In an interview last week, Mr. Selander, 46, acknowledged there is truth in one piece of industry scuttlebutt: that his personality and style differ from Mr. Lockhart's and may affect the company differently over time.
But he has basically not tinkered with the organization, and he talks only of making MasterCard work better and smarter.
No less devoted to the teamwork concepts that Mr. Lockhart drummed into the company and its culture, Mr. Selander said he wants more "intellectual participation from a broader group of people" and less "bilateral decision- making."
"Having been part of the senior management team for more than two years, I certainly have a vested interest in the way things are working," Mr. Selander said.
He pointed out that many of the other top managers also came in under Mr. Lockhart and share the outlook, including technology chief Jerry McElhatton, executive vice president for global resources William Jacobs, U.S. region president Alan Heuer, and executive vice president for franchise management Christopher Thom, who now also heads the Canada region.
Mr. Lockhart "did a lot to realign and strengthen the management team," Mr. Selander said in his first extended conversation with American Banker. "From the style standpoint, it is an evolution of MasterCard, not just Selander," the chief executive said.
Priority-setting, a task that falls to the key people reporting to Mr. Selander-an executive committee in all but name-will be "more focused" and "more collaborative," he said. "There are so many people here with great ideas, we could end up spending enormous amounts of money" on research and product initiatives.
"Instead of putting a little bit of money into 100 things, we want to put our money into five or six things that are really important," he added.
When led by Mr. Lockhart, the narrowing of targets brought one big new bet: MasterCard's acquisition of 51% of the Mondex smart card and digital cash venture, completed last February.
The honing of commitments to Mondex and the established brands- MasterCard, the MasterCard/Eurocard hybrid, the Maestro and MasterMoney debit cards, and the Cirrus automated teller network-can be seen as the Lockhart legacy.
Mr. Selander is optimistic about delivering on it, and the organization has a bounce and enthusiasm it lacked before Mr. Lockhart extricated it from the "silo mentality" that he said permeated its old New York skyscraper culture. The suburban campus and its sprawlingly horizontal I.M. Pei edifice are in every way a contrast: quiet, close to nature, casual dress code, plenty of parking.
But the newfound dynamism cannot obscure the fact that Visa International has surpassed $1 trillion in annual payment volume, reflecting its huge advantage in credit cards. MasterCard reported $550 million last year-big and viable but a distant second in market share.
Mr. Selander "is the right kind of guy for a highly political environment," said James Shanahan of Business Dynamics Consulting, Nyack, N.Y. "His successes in Europe and his international experience over all could be big pluses for MasterCard.
"But there are still a lot of questions about how the Mondex strategy will play out. And on the credit card side, how do you turn around the share erosion?"
Mr. Selander said MasterCard can excel by emphasizing quality and service; focusing on newer opportunities in debit cards and building on Europay's debit advantage in Europe; and realizing the promise of Mondex.
He said the strategic vision has "four boxes." Two of them-maximizing acceptance and being "best in class" in product, service, and operational quality-are essential but unlikely to bring lasting competitive advantage.
MasterCard and Visa, for example, each claim about 14 million acceptance locations and tend to increase them in tandem.
"We don't necessarily see our being able to beat everybody on acceptance, but no one will be better," Mr. Selander said.
The "boxes" where MasterCard can break the mold, he said, are member customization, and new products and platforms.
"Member focus is the core of the strategy," Mr. Selander said. "The pieces that help differentiate us now will change in the future, but the focus on the members will allow us to do new things that differentiate them and help them make more money. Call it customer intimacy."
Mondex typifies platform innovation. Mr. Selander said it will truly take hold when the multi-application operating system, Multos, emerges in the second quarter next year.
Multos is bidding to be the de facto standard for letting services like credit, debit, and shopper loyalty points, and even competing brands like MasterCard and Visa, reside in a single computer chip on a smart card. The ability to package any number of services on a card gets at the desired "customer intimacy."
But Mondex and Multos have strong antagonists at Visa, which has embraced the Java computing language as inherently more flexible and less proprietary.
If any industry issue visibly irks the affable and reserved MasterCard chief executive, it is the smart card debate. Mr. Selander was riled by Visa International president Edmund Jensen's accusation three months ago that the Mondex corporate structure violates association principles. With MasterCard owning 51% of Mondex, Mr. Jensen suggested, the banks owning the other 49% would be more equal than other MasterCard members.
"All of our members benefit from our 51% ownership," Mr. Selander retorted. "The banks that started Mondex will benefit a little more, and why not? They're the ones who took the initial risk."
Mr. Selander said MasterCard's equity-sharing approach is not new and is no different from what Visa has done through, for example, its merchant- processing venture with Total System Services Inc. In unloading its home banking division, Visa Interactive, the California-based association has ended up with a stake in the acquirer, Integrion Financial Network, alongside several major financial institutions.
Mr. Selander said he can only be encouraged by the way the Mondex purchase "lit up member interest." He is banking on Multos to bring a time- to-market advantage-hitting the recurring theme of being first and emphasizing uniqueness.
In that vein, Mr. Selander said he supported the recent U.S. initiative to limit consumers' liability on lost and stolen debit cards.
"It was inevitable that someone, somewhere would put a liability limit in," he said. "If it is inevitable, why not step up and be first? It gives you a marketing advantage."
Mr. Selander is keeping his distance from his U.S. group and its president, Mr. Heuer, as they come down to a decision on a new advertising agency. Two agencies are in final testing.
Mr. Heuer "is keeping me informed about the process," Mr. Selander said. "If it's a tie and everything comes out exactly the same, then the decision will come down to which one can best support us globally.
"The U.S. represents 40% of the volume and 60% of the revenues to MasterCard. If we are successful here, it gives us opportunities to take advantage of in the rest of the world."