More than a House of Cards

Louise Porthouse continues to conceive new hiring strategies for MasterCard as it experiments more with mobile payments and e-commerce

If your first thought when you hear the name MasterCard is a piece of plastic, you’re not alone. In fact, Louise Porthouse used to think just like you—until she became the vice president of human resources for MasterCard Canada.

“People might think of us as a bank, which we’re not, or a financial institution, which we’re not. We’re a technology company,” says Porthouse, who, after six years with the membership corporation, still gets a charge when she can point out that distinction. Over the past few years, MasterCard has been rethinking the way people make payments, from the use of mobile phones to e-commerce, and that innovation has had a direct impact on the recruitment and performance-review strategies of Porthouse’s department.

As a subsidiary of MasterCard Incorporated, MasterCard Canada’s clients fall in two categories: issuers and acquirers. Issuers are financial institutions that issue MasterCard cards to consumers, and acquirers are financial institutions that provide processing and card-acceptance services to merchants. Anyone whose goods or services can be pur­chased using MasterCard technology is a potential client.

Imagine paying for a trip on a bus or train. Commuters may purchase monthly passes or pay for single fares using cash or credit, but MasterCard Canada’s goal, Porthouse explains, is to facilitate those purchases with, for example, a reloadable card you can charge to your MasterCard—a much more secure transaction. As MasterCard Canada moves toward more digital forms of payment, the company’s goal remains to make the purchasing experience safe, simple, and smart.

When Porthouse joined the company in 2007, the bulk of the résumés that crossed her predecessor’s desk detailed experience and expertise in sales and financial institutions. “Now we’re looking for people who’ve worked in telecommunications, retail, government, consumer packaged goods, and transit,” Porthouse says. “They understand that business. We can get them up to speed on MasterCard, but their knowledge of that [other] sector of business is an invaluable asset that we are capitalizing on.”

The way Porthouse and her team find potential hires has been reexamined as well.  Since 2010, MasterCard Canada has been crowdsourcing its interns, sales specialists, and other professionals through social media. For example, for intern recruitment, the company uses LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Porthouse’s team puts out the call for annual interns and pairs it with a competition, the most recent of which posed the question, “What would a cashless society look like?” Prospects were asked to submit a creative element in lieu of a cover letter. “It was a really interesting way to attract talent,” Porthouse says, “and also created media impressions and buzz.” And since its successful implementation, six other MasterCard offices around the world have adopted the strategy.

“Don’t go into HR because you ‘love people.’ You really need to understand the business to be successful. Arm yourself with true business knowledge, and balance yourself as an employee advocate and advocate of the business. And remember, it’s not a popularity contest. Stand by your decisions.”
“Don’t go into HR because you ‘love people.’ You really need to understand the business to be successful. Arm yourself with true business knowledge, and balance yourself as an employee advocate and advocate of the business. And remember, it’s not a popularity contest. Stand by your decisions.”

With her innovative talent-acquisition method in place, Porthouse needed an equally effective talent-review process—one whose strong suit, she says, is its consultation aspect. MasterCard Canada’s leadership team consults with all managers to assess employees’ key strengths, areas they’d like to develop, new areas of business they can go into, previous experience, performance over the past year, and potential. “We’ve been very definitive in rating potential and developing action plans,” Porthouse says. “It’s something that MasterCard has been improving worldwide.”

Coinciding with her goal of improving the review process is Porthouse’s vision of an HR department that interacts with its people. Being genuine and realistic with employees while remaining a trusted advisor to the executive leaders is a job that requires Porthouse to work beyond the walls of her office, but she’s confident that such a duality is the key to a thriving workforce at MasterCard Canada. “I hear too many times about HR being locked behind a door,” Porthouse says. “I think our department has been successful because we’re visible, accessible, and connected to our employees.”