Our Interview with Former Visa CEO Charles Scharf

It is the dream of almost every young professional entering the world to rise to the top of their profession and make not only a comfortable living, but a real contribution to the company they are working for. Here, we welcomed Charles W. Scharf, the former CEO of Visa and current CEO of the Bank of New York Mellon (BNY), as well as a member of the Microsoft Board of Directors, for an interview. We touched on topics such as advice for young people on how to advance in the business world and the skills needed to impress job recruiters. The proof of our interview can be seen in the introductory video above.

MBL: You started work at a consumer finance company, Commercial Credit Corp, when you were still a college senior at Johns Hopkins. How were you able to get hired at such a young age, and what did it feel like being a young employee at a large company? (Hoping you can record the answer to this one, and only this one.)

Scharf - I was in my senior year at College and I was looking for jobs mainly through on campus recruiting.  But, my father suggested that he might be able to get my resume to the CFO of Commercial Credit Company.  Very often the challenge in finding a job is getting your resume in front of the right person so I accepted his offer to do this and when he did, the CFO asked me to come meet him.  That led to him offering me a job.

I was one of the few young people at the company, but I had a great time.  It forced me to be mature and learn to interact with people of all ages in business.

MBL: As you climbed up the corporate ladder, what is the most important thing you learned? Did you have to self-educate yourself a lot?

Scharf - If you want to advance in anything, you need to be you’re own advocate.   First of all, there is no substitute for hard work. Hard work might mean longer hours, it might mean taking on the toughest problems, and it means going the extra mile wherever you can.  And self education is critical. There is so much to learn and so many ways to do it - don’t wait for someone to put you through a class. Read whatever you can, talk to whoever is willing to talk, and if you don’t understand something - ask for an explanation.  Take responsibility for your own advancement.

MBL: What advice do you have for young professionals today who are hoping to go from an internship to being a full-time member of a company?

Scharf - First, do the best you can do in the internship.  Your work and your attitude need to speak for themselves.  You have an opportunity to prove to people that they should want to hire you full time.  Second, at the right time, make it clear that your remaining at the company for a full time job is your first choice.

MBL: Do you think it is harder today for young people to advance at large companies than when you were hired?

Scharf- No.  I think it’s just the opposite.  There is more opportunity than ever.  Tenure matters less and accomplishments matter more.  Companies are becoming driven more based on meritocracy.  So you have to perform. You have to deliver in your job. You have to work to advance yourself.

MBL: Last question: What kinds of experience are you looking to see from someone before you hire them to work for your company? Are there any "secrets" to nailing an interview?

Scharf - When I interview someone, I’m looking beyond their technical skills.  Technical skills are easily to evaluate and you need to ensure you are applying for a job appropriate for your skills.  The question then is if there are two candidates with the same skill set - how do you choose. I want to hire people that have the right personality, people who will work well with other, but politely challenge themselves and the rest of us to keep improving.  I want the person to have ambition, but ambition which will be welcomed in our organization. So a great skill set, someone you’d want to see every day, and someone who is going to make us better. Don’t search the internet for answers to questions before your interview.  Be yourself, be relaxed, and make sure the interview knows who you are.

Matthew Engel