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Edgar Aguilar is a music fan. From contemporary jazz to R&B to world music, he loves it all. And much like his musical taste, the career interests of Mastercard’s executive vice president of information technology and human resources cover a wide range.
Aguilar comes from the engineering world, perhaps known more for its strong analytics bend than its interpersonal skills, and has made the impressive transition to managing people in the human resources world. It’s like Elon Musk stepping away from the auto industry, not to focus on space travel, but to become an HR expert. The resulting combination has produced not just a technology expert or a human resources professional, but a business-minded HR partner who’s worked with some of technology’s heaviest hitters.
Prior to coming to Mastercard, Aguilar spent his career at some of the telecommunication industry’s biggest names: Bell Laboratories, AT&T, and AT&T’s successful partnership with Mexico-based Alestra. At Bell Laboratories, the young engineer was recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff—a fitting award since he earned a master of engineering from Cornell and an MBA certification from George Washington University.
It was while getting his MBA certification that Aguilar was introduced to the methodology of engineer W. Edwards Deming, who though primarily known for his contributions to statistical process controls and quality, was also pioneering in management-employee relations and harnessing the power of motivated employees. “I decided I wanted to help drive, lead, and connect with people in a different way,” Aguilar says. That desire led to Aguilar accepting a sales engineering director position with Alestra and a leap into a more customer, candidate, and people-facing position.
“I try and operate with freedom within a framework. I want to provide a safe place for people to experience, learn, collaborate, and feel excited. Critical thinking is also required at all times.”
Two decades later, Aguilar has occupied many positions at Mastercard, including head of global network services, chief technology officer for operations, and business information officer in support of enterprise security services. In the past few years, Aguilar has become head of people strategy, and HR for the operations and technology business unit. With those roles, Aguilar is not just interested in the numbers, but the motivations behind them.
Lately, he’s focused on Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary, the landmark book that examines the interworking between the left and right brain hemispheres, especially as it pertains to his unusual, bihemispheric skill sets. “You spend so much time in school learning Maxwell’s equations and Newton’s laws, but your brain is working so hard on logic you can sometimes miss the Pathos (i.e., emotional side),” Aguilar says. “I’m very proud and humble that I have the opportunity to assist technology people with HR services. I speak their language but also try to connect on a much deeper level.”
Opportunities for All
Edgar Aguilar’s focus on people extends not only to his HR role but also to his life outside the office. He’s the executive sponsor for Mastercard’s Adaptability Business Resource Group, which aims to provide support for employees with disabilities and their family members and friends. Aguilar also sits on the board of the International Institute of St. Louis, which provides immigrant services and builds a more inclusive community.
It’s not just his own HR team that Aguilar wants to connect with. “Products and services are certainly important at Mastercard. Our network and data centers are critical. But what makes the real difference is the people,” Aguilar says. “We’re a global company that must be represented as such, not just because it looks good on a glossy brochure but because it’s fundamental to who we are.”
Diversity also plays into Aguilar’s fundamental principles, as does the notion of Ready Now vs. Ready Able—or the agility companies need to have to be able to adapt without sacrificing performance or security. “Our customer requirements and expectations continue to evolve at an incredibly rapid pace,” he says. “It’s more important than ever that we be able to maintain an agile culture.” For Aguilar, customer experience is the true north of the company. Being able to anticipate and quickly respond to ever-changing customer needs is a huge motivator. In this case, diversity simply means more differing perspectives are available to ebb and flow with the changing of the market.
Aguilar continues to succeed, he believes, because of his management philosophy. “I try and operate with freedom within a framework,” the EVP says. “I want to provide a safe place for people to experience, learn, collaborate, and feel excited. Critical thinking is also required at all times.” The leader says that philosophy has defined most of his professional life.
Looking ahead, Aguilar says Mastercard’s commitment to driving cultural transformation must and will continue to be a priority. “As a technology leader, we have to continue to balance that magic trick of short-term benefits and long-term goals,” Aguilar says. Those include continuing to develop talent and to create customer value while simplifying processes in order to scale more easily. “Simplifying shouldn’t be a restriction,” Aguilar says. “You have to stay focused or you might lose the connection of what is truly important—strategy starts and ends with the customer experience.”