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Rebecca Ray: Crediting MasterCard Learning with Business Success

When Rebecca Ray became the senior vice president of global learning and organizational development at MasterCard Worldwide in 2005, she brought with her a diverse career ranging from high school education to consulting to Wall Street.

November 22, 2006
Related Topics: Leadership Development, Technology, Blended Learning, Metrics, Outsourcing, E-Learning, Learning Delivery, Leadership Development, Management, Measurement, Technology

Rebecca Ray began her learning career as a high school teacher. She moved her way up through the ranks of academia, teaching at several institutions, including New York University and the University of Oxford in England, while running a consulting practice. A client persuaded her to join the corporate learning environment as an employee. That client was Merrill Lynch, and as a vice president in the management development team responsible for the assessment, selection and development of branch managers around the world, Ray attracted the attention of Prudential Securities. Just before she finalized plans to become a branch manager on Wall Street, another recruiter came calling, then another, until she joined the MasterCard Worldwide family in December 2005 as senior vice president of global learning and organizational development.

Ray has initiated a number of programs to effectively join the MasterCard business units with learning strategy. Her work began in earnest when MasterCard became a public company in May 2006.

"The IPO is simply a step in the process of becoming a different company," Ray said. "One of the things that was apparent to many, even before I arrived, was that we needed to help our folks feel more comfortable in this public arena. The commercial culture curriculum really dealt with helping our folks understand what it is like to be in a more commercially driven environment with a public company. It helped senior leaders understand what leading in this new environment would be like, and there was also a great deal of thought given to what kind of training programs we might offer to help all of our employees build their business acumen, financial literacy and whatnot. Those were under way and ready to go. I thought it would be important to help all of our employees understand strategy so that they understood why we were becoming a new company. What was the impetus behind that? What was the new competitive landscape like? What was going to be MasterCard's winning response?"

Ray partnered with subject-matter experts, business-line leaders, and colleagues in HR, as well as senior management, including CEO Bob Selander and CFO Chris McWilton, to build a program called "RoadMap to the Future, MasterCard's Winning Strategy" for every employee at the company. Ohio firm Root Learning Inc. helped put together the RoadMap program using learning maps and interactive sessions led by table coaches from various business units, as well as structured, facilitated discussions to help employees understand strategy.

"I went through this when Prudential became a public company in the late '90s," Ray said. "This process is very respectful of the adult learner. It assumes that they have knowledge and experiences that they can share and bring to the discussion. It's highly interactive, visual, and it helps with the retention and the understanding. We partnered with them to build a series of three maps. They're very graphic, very colorful, built specifically for us with our strategy, our information and our thoughts. The first one was about the competitive landscape. The second one was our financial model. The third was our strategy, and the people component of that strategy.

"We talked about our leadership model, our corporate competencies and our relationships with customers. We had a kickoff at the very end of June, and we launched this in 36 cities over the next couple of weeks. We got to 93 percent of our population in these four-hour, face-to-face sessions. It was a massive, massive undertaking but successful because several hundred business lines were trained as table coaches to lead these discussions. Bob Selander did a video, as did Chris McWilton. The local leader in a region would talk a little bit about why this was important to do and how this was part of a discussion about becoming a new company. Then the master facilitators - generally the HR representatives in whatever office it was - would kick off a session, and the table coaches would lead employees through a discussion, so they would get it at the end of that four-hour session. There's about 7 percent of the population remaining that will be getting an online version to give them an experience with this, as well. We'll be following those sessions with another set of maps that will continue that strategy conversation in 2007."

Ray said her learning philosophy involves creating the most robust business-related programs and ensuring they're available in a variety of formats so that learning is accessible, no matter where you are in the world. Amid a general push to rebrand and reposition the company following the IPO, Ray constructed a multipronged approach to bring her philosophy to life. This approach includes MasterCard University, which is organized into six colleges such as the College of Technology and Operations and the College of General Studies. The one college that doesn't quite fit that model is the Leadership Institute, for which the company partners with Harvard Business School Publishing for the Harvard ManageMentor program.

"MasterCard University needed a little sharper focus with a dean at each college who is a business-line leader and a learning council comprised of the key stakeholders in each of those respective employee populations," Ray said. "The learning councils keep us on point in terms of content certainly and also help us project where the company may need to be in a few years. If they say, "We think there's going to be a need for this kind of programming expertise or for greater competency in this particular area," we have a window to say, 'OK, let's take a look at either these off-the-shelf programs or at partnering with a university to bring in a customized degree program.' It gives us an opportunity to say, 'OK, we're here now. How are we addressing the needs of today? Also, what are the needs of tomorrow that we need to anticipate that we can now have a thoughtful plan to address in the intervening 18, 24 months?' or whatever the time frame is."

Ray said just one type of learning delivery method is unlikely to provide the workforce with everything it needs, so blended learning, including everything from instructor-led classroom activities to podcasting, is the right approach. For instance, MasterCard's management development program has several initiatives designed for newer managers such as Management Foundations.

"It's everything you might think it would be," Ray said. "It's employment law for managers, how to conduct a fair and legal interview, how to coach and counsel, how to conduct a performance review - all those 'Manager 101' kinds of things. This is a yearlong program that people are selected for, and over a year's time, you've had an opportunity to not only have classroom time, where there is some pre-work, but there's mostly application. How would we conduct a legal interview? Let's role-play those kinds of things. Let's take a look at competency-based interviewing and how that might be different from more traditional interviewing. They get action learning requirements and online programs either as pre- or post-exercise, all thematically linked, and we use the Harvard ManageMentor series of training programs for that. In that blended learning approach, they've got online, instructor-led, some self-reflection and some action learning. We've got to figure out, 'How can we do this in a way where learning is accessible and not a hassle for people?'"

Ray is also a firm advocate of strategic learning partnerships - they offer cost benefits, as well as valuable outside expertise.

"I feel a very strong obligation to be a good steward of the dollars that I have because I recognize that if those dollars came to me, it means they didn't go to someone else," Ray said. "One of the good things about having a corporate university be the framework around learning is you can centralize the negotiation process for working with strategic partners and leverage the numerous contracts that you might have had with a single vendor. Simply, it's renegotiating contracts, and trying to operate from an enterprise-wide view saves money.

"You have to ask the kinds of questions that I ask my team to look at: Could we have done this in a Web conference situation? Could we have done this in an e-learning module? Could we have done this in a series of audiocasts? Could we have done this in podcasting? Sometimes 'face to face' isn't the right answer, and sometimes it's worth whatever you have to do to have people feel connected or to actually apply and get feedback that's real time. Renegotiating contracts from an enterprise-wide view and alternative methods of delivery are probably the two biggest areas that we look to for cost containment."

MasterCard has established a fairly rigorous process to capture Level 1 and 2 metrics data for instructor-led and online learning. The company also conducts periodic vendor reviews to ensure course quality remains at the level it expects.

"We try very hard to make sure that the quality of the programs is outstanding, so we're constantly looking for feedback," Ray said. "It's only been a few months, but people wrote how they felt about the RoadMap to the Future. People talked about understanding the strategy in a very compelling way. It was very powerful that an awful lot of employees felt not only did they have an opportunity to step away from the 'day to day,' they had an opportunity to really understand the big picture. Second, employees resonate to managers who spend time talking to them about the larger picture, taking the time to explain things in facilitated discussions with employees.

"I think it would be fair to say that I built on the foundation that I found. If I did make a contribution, it's in helping the learning function stay very closely aligned to the business units and think about learning from a strategic standpoint. MasterCard has a long history of success from a financial standpoint. Certainly, it enjoys a very good reputation. As MasterCard begins to take a new look at the company it is evolving into, it will continue that record of success, and I will make sure that the learning function tracks along with it."

Kellye Whitney,

NAME: Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D.

TITLE: Senior Vice President, Global Learning and Organizational Development

COMPANY: MasterCard Worldwide


  • Launched the largest single learning event in MasterCard history with the "RoadMap to the Future" strategy maps for the company's global employee base, aligning its leaders and employees in an understanding of the competitive landscape, its financial/business models and its winning strategy.
  • Revised and relaunched MasterCard University to focus more clearly on the needs of the business units and to make the learning portal more intuitive for participants.
  • Enhanced MasterCard's management and leadership development programs with a variety of new programs, including the development of a new learning portal devoted to the company's leaders, which ties to the new MasterCard leadership model and corporate competencies.
  • Partnered with Global Staffing to design and launch a global competency-based interviewing program to help managers acquire talent against the MasterCard leadership model and the corporate competencies.

    Learning Philosophy: "In an era of increased complexity and a shortage of talent, every corporation looks to gain competitive advantage. Over the last two decades, every company has sought to gain efficiencies through lean manufacturing or upgraded IT infrastructure or financial rigor or outsourcing. Now the laser-beam focus is on people. Employee development is the last remaining untapped frontier. What a great time to be involved with learning."

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