mastercard cfo Breaking up the boys' club

As chief financial officer at Mastercard and Germany’s most successful female executive in the United States, Martina Hund-Mejean is doing what she can to blaze a trail for female colleagues.
Straight outta Frankfurt, Germany: Powerful CFO, Martina Hund-Mejean.

On any given day, Mastercard's chief financial officer, Martina Hund-Mejean, might be busy meeting with central bankers in South Africa, regulators in Brussels or startup founders in India. The Frankfurt native relishes that variety on her calendar and in her work. She deals with issues ranging from the future of payments and digitalization to data security - and as a German living in New York, she also gets plenty of questions from home about the political situation in the United States under President Donald Trump.

Lately, the 57-year-old executive has been spending much of her time working with the European Commission, before stricter rules on privacy protection take effect in May. “We have a couple of very innovative ideas that we’re currently discussing with regulators to keep data safe, while allowing cardholders to maintain control over their data,” she said.

A year ago, Mastercard’s chief financial officer was helping launch 2KUZE, an online platform to give East African farmers access to digital payments, as well as information about prices on the international market. And in February, Ms. Hund-Mejean will stand alongside CEO Ajay Banga as they present Mastercard’s quarterly results. She has spent more than a decade with the company and 31 years in the United States, where she is something of a trailblazer. As one of few women to reach the upper echelons of international finance, she is also the highest-ranking German female executive at an American company.

Ms. Hund-Mejean deliberately chose not to work on Wall Street. An internship at Merrill Lynch helped her decide against it.

She made use of that pioneering spirit early on. After completing her studies and training at Deutsche Bank, she joined Dow Chemical as a credit analyst. Ms. Hund-Mejean went on to earn her MBA from the Darden School of Business in Virginia before moving to New York to take a job in General Motors’ treasury office in 1988. After other roles at Lucent Technologies and Tyco International, she arrived at Mastercard in 2007.

As the mother of two teenage children, Ms. Hund-Mejean deliberately chose not to work on Wall Street. During her time at business school, she did an internship at Merrill Lynch and her experiences there - with the macho culture and outsize expectations - helped her decide against it. "At General Motors, we at times also worked 80 to 90 hour weeks, but it was never as crazy as on Wall Street," Ms. Hund-Mejean recalls.

As the second-largest credit card network in the world behind Visa, Mastercard has embraced technological advancement, having established a key partnership with online payment system, Paypal. Part of Ms. Hund-Mejean’s task is to make sure that Mastercard has a foothold across the payment spectrum, whether it be with traditional credit cards or in virtual reality. Since Ms. Hund-Mejean arrived, the company’s stock price has grown eightfold.

Her no-nonsense - some might call it “German” - approach to business has won her ample respect over the years. “Martina expects a lot from the people who work for her,” said Barbara Gasper, who knew Ms. Hund-Mejean at both Lucent and Mastercard. “But she demands at least as much from herself.” Mastercard’s CFO is also a people person, Ms. Gasper said: As a mother herself, Ms. Hund-Mejean understands if a colleague has to stay home to care for a sick child, and makes a point of personally thanking staff for their work, particularly junior employees.

For several years, she has sought to champion her female colleagues and help their male counterparts understand how to promote equal opportunities. “When it comes to assigning a project, women often need somewhat longer to decide: Am I good enough? Do I even have time for that? Women really think it over, but by then men have often raised their hands already,” Ms. Hund-Mejean said. “I always tell our people: You have to give women more time or approach good female colleagues directly.”

Though the awards she has won matter little to her -- Ms. Hund-Mejean has been recognized as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Finance” by the magazine American Banker for three years in a row - she knows the distinctions are important because they help empower other women. Mastercard’s top three management tiers are about 30 percent women, though more work at lower levels. Women are better represented than at many companies, but, Ms. Hund-Mejean said, there’s still room for improvement. “Some things are happening,” she said. “But not enough.”

For the time being, it seems unlikely that the German will move back to her homeland. She is married to a Frenchman, and New York has been her city for years. And she really likes American optimism, she says. Nonetheless Ms. Hund-Mejean has tried to ensure that links to Europe remain unbroken. "It was important to us to show our children that we come from Europe and to cultvate appreciation for the culture there," she says. And she is not just working to advance women's rights in the workplace in the US, but also representing a bit of Germany over on the other side of the Atlantic. "As I always say, we're like a small EU in New York," she concludes.

Astrid Dörner is a New York correspondent for Handelsblatt. Amanda Price in New York adapted this article into English for Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: [email protected]