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Pioneering Growth through Empathy: The Thomas Harris Story

The dynamic landscape of IT services and IT consulting is shaped by tech trends, the IT-as-a-service approach, digital transformation, the evolving financial services industry and the challenges of the digital landscape. Picture this: An organization navigating the intricate web of global transactions, driven by a profound mission to foster an inclusive and digital economy.

This is the realm where Thomas Harris’ leadership prowess takes center stage. With a strategic gaze fixed on unlocking growth, Thomas embraces a people-centered approach, recognizing the immense potential that lies within high-performing, contented and functioning teams. He is the Senior Vice President of Digital Business Transformation of a pioneering technology company in the payments industry, Mastercard.

Thomas’s track record is a testament to his ability to orchestrate transformational change within the most intricate of organizational structures. His journey is etched with instances of steering transformational outcomes, meticulously centered around customer-centricity and the imperative of speed to scale. He is the leader of a proven Growth Operating System that propels multi-national organizations towards the zenith of success.

Yet, what sets Thomas apart is his unwavering commitment to a people-first philosophy. He harnesses the power of technology as a catalyst for change throughout the culture stack, evolving the organization and culture in parallel.

In this grand tapestry of innovation and connectivity, Thomas embodies transformative leadership, seamlessly aligning his expertise with Mastercard’s vision. As the digital horizon continues to expand, Thomas remains at the forefront, driving growth, empowerment and sustainable change.

Let’s dive into Thomas’ transformative leadership journey and his role in driving growth through empowered teams at Mastercard!

A Tale of Challenges and Triumphs

Thomas embarked on his professional journey as a Management Associate at Citigroup in the vibrant landscape of New York City. During this phase, he not only honed his skills but also discovered his true passions and inclinations. Thomas recounts, “Product management resonated with me profoundly, allowing me to seamlessly integrate my three core passions: steering concrete outcomes, unraveling intricate problems and fostering genuine customer connections.”

Following his tenure at Citigroup, Thomas transitioned to American Express, where he devoted his expertise to the Small Business segment. This pivotal experience became the driving force that propelled him towards his current role at Mastercard. “Joining the Commercial Products team at Mastercard felt like the next logical step, a platform where I could expand my insights and contributions,” Thomas recalls with enthusiasm.

Thomas’s tenure at Mastercard proved to be transformative, granting him unparalleled insights into customer needs and challenges. More notably, it highlighted the profound impact of teams focused on delivering holistic solutions. “I’ve been fortunate to witness the orchestrated efforts of talented teams coming together to surmount challenges, all while prioritizing sustainable solutions over mere profits,” Thomas comments appreciatively. His journey within the organization has been a globetrotting one, encompassing leadership roles across North America and Europe. A culmination of experiences led him back to his roots in the U.K. after an enriching 14-year tenure in the U.S.

Through his dynamic leadership, Thomas champions the belief that the success of any endeavor is reliant on its people through nurturing, inspiring and retaining exceptional talent. “Crafting roles that are not only interesting but also personally fulfilling has been pivotal in my leadership approach,” Thomas reveals. Amidst the complexity of large, global organizations, he adeptly instills the importance of purpose, empowerment and adaptability for his teams. He also underscores the criticality of fostering diverse, collaborative teams that evolve incessantly to meet the changing needs of customers. “Adaptation and anticipation are the cornerstones of addressing customer needs effectively,” he emphasizes.

Today, Thomas is at the helm of driving enterprise-wide impact, leveraging the wealth of insights amassed over his journey. His strategic focus converges on collaboration, unwavering customer centricity and market responsiveness–all underpinned by the pursuit of tangible and more significantly, transformational growth for Mastercard.

The Gems of Industry Wisdom

Thomas emphasizes the significance of shared insights and collaborative learning in the realm of digital transformation. He asserts, “While each transformation journey is unique, there are common threads that weave through them–encompassing strategies, objectives and the very essence of organizational culture.”

Thomas’s approach to embracing knowledge is multifaceted, encompassing three pivotal avenues:

  • He thrives on fostering connections within his professional circle. Thomas champions the notion that continuous growth stems from the interplay of established relationships and novel interactions. He attests, “In the dynamic landscape of digital transformation, no individual possesses an exhaustive reservoir of answers. Thus, engaging with fellow industry professionals across diverse sectors, be it tech giants like Google, iconic brands like Nike, stalwarts like Siemens, or even esteemed academic institutions like Cambridge University Press, has granted me profound insights and a holistic understanding of the digital metamorphosis.”
  • Thomas believes in the ethos of giving back and the importance of knowledge sharing. “Sharing my personal experiences on various platforms, such as industry conferences and engagements, has allowed me to forge meaningful connections within the digital transformation community,” Thomas shares. This virtuous exchange has led to the discovery of innovative approaches and mutual enrichment.
  • Thomas underscores the value of dedicated research to stay attuned to the ever-evolving trends. His commitment is mirrored in insightful studies, one of which unveiled a staggering statistic: A resounding 77% of organizations are currently traversing the digital transformation landscape. This eye-opening research spotlighted the quintessential need for ingraining change within an organization’s very cultural fabric. Thomas emphasizes, “Beyond frameworks and tools, the culture stack–encompassing structures, roles, responsibilities, objectives, and incentives–assumes paramount importance in the transformative journey.”
  • “Mastercard Digital Transformation Study, 2022.”

Ingrained Beliefs, Flourishing Culture

Mastercard is committed to continuously improving internal collaboration. It has a set of principles called The Mastercard Way which is focused on three pillars:

  • Create Value: This is focused on encouraging bold, original thinking to deeply understand then address customer needs at scale, embedding variation across different markets.
  • Grow Together: In a large, multi-national organization, it’s important that everyone understands their role and how they can add value, while also remaining open to different perspectives. Thomas says, “The diversity of our people and the opportunity for everyone to have a seat at the table is a huge strength of Mastercard.
  • Move Fast: Prioritization is the enabler; by focusing teams to be agile, we are able to deploy resources against critical products to deliver outcomes more quickly. “Progress is rarely a straight line, so adapting to changing market and customer needs is a critical success driver.

Tech Talk

Technology is in Mastercard’s DNA. Thomas notes, “Our ability to understand and apply foundational and emerging technologies to solve tangible customer pain points is a key differentiator for us.” Using a disciplined product management approach—coupled with thoughtful partnerships with customers—has proven to be the right formula to build and implement great products together.

Tom sits in a team called Mastercard Foundry that has four objectives within the organization. This team has four objectives:

  • Strategic Insights: Experts in new technologies like Open AI, quantum computing, privacy-enhancing technology, web3, and more are constantly exploring new, potential commercial applications for customers.
  • Product Development: Internally, Mastercard Foundry collaborates with product development teams to de-risk high-profile and more complex projects, optimizing products built to drive adoption and scale in the market.
  • Customer Engagement: Mastercard has seven ‘Experience Centers’ around the globe that utilize an interactive form of storytelling to demonstrate real-world applications of its unique products, services and concepts, with over 50 demos available at present. Thomas mentions, “As part of our work, we look around the corner of the next 5-7 years so we can anticipate and solve the challenges posed by our fast-evolving industry, and subsequently help prepare our customers for the future.
  • Growth Operating System (OS): This is a set of consistent, repeatable and scalable frameworks and tools that enables Mastercard to design, develop and deliver great products and services.

Thomas’ role is to lead the Growth OS, which consists of four focus areas:

  • Studio is a cornerstone of his strategy and serves as a dynamic framework that intertwines customer-centricity and scalability. Thomas elaborates, “Our product lifecycle management framework is built around the customer experience, propelling us towards swift scalability. We engage in agile experimentation alongside our partners, crafting solutions that are not only enticing but also operationally viable.” The focus lies in ensuring desirability, feasibility and a robust business model. Once launched, continuously refine these products to ensure they retain their distinct edge in the market.
  • Strategic Product Roadmaps become the compass guiding Mastercard’s workstack, aligning it seamlessly with company’s overarching business strategy. This alignment empowers Mastercard to meticulously channel investments, culminating in optimal returns for both customers and shareholders. Thomas emphasizes, “Prioritization rooted in strategic coherence propels us forward, ensuring every investment echoes our commitment to excellence.”
  • Dashboards take center stage in Thomas’s toolkit, ushering in a new era of data-driven leadership. By furnishing real-time insights, these dashboards equip leaders with the tools to proactively manage product performance. The astute allocation of resources finds ensures they’re channelled precisely where and when they are needed most. “Our leadership is empowered with real-time intelligence, fostering proactive decision-making and an intentional distribution of resources,” states Thomas, highlighting the power of data in shaping impactful strategies.
  • Product Guild emerges as a nucleus of empowerment within Thomas’s leadership framework. Fuelling continuous growth and learning, this Guild equips product managers with opportunities to expand their horizons. Simultaneously, it constructs a vibrant community of practice, unlocking a reservoir of collective wisdom within the organization. Thomas shares, “The Product Guild not only nurtures the growth of our product managers but also harnesses the invaluable tapestry of experiences that each individual brings.”

Sizing Up Tomorrow’s Shoes

Innovation is the application of these technologies to solve problems for customers at scale. This requires an investment in people.

In 2020, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs’ report said that 50% of the world’s adult population would need to be reskilled in the next five years; that’s five billion people. When one looks at the top 10 skills people will need, only two are directly related to technology (e.g., software development). The rest are focused on collaboration, problem-solving and ways of working. This trend will be accentuated by the emergence of generative AI, which will automate a wide range of work, putting even more emphasis on softer skills.

One of the key trends coming in the next three to five years is a strategic reinvestment in people through development programs that help them to evolve their knowledge and skills so that they can deliver value, working alongside AI-automated technology.

Sculpting Tomorrow’s Statues
Thomas is a visionary leader with an unplanned yet purposeful career trajectory, emphasizing the significance of adaptability and self-investment. He reflects, “My career journey, much like life’s, has been devoid of rigid plans. “Embracing the unknown is a conscious choice, focusing on a commitment to self-improvement and cultivating resilient teams prepared for a multitude of future scenarios.”

In contrast, the path ahead for Mastercard is delineated with clarity and innovation. Thomas champions the organization as a pioneering force in the realm of technology and products. He states, “Mastercard’s distinction as a premier product and technology leader is fortified by our resolute dedication to forging, refining and advancing a broad spectrum of solutions, tailored to address both present and future consumer needs.”

The ethos of collaboration is deeply entrenched within Mastercard’s journey under Thomas’s leadership. A prime illustration is the ‘Studio,’ a dynamic conduit that unifies diverse perspectives. Thomas elaborates, “Through Studio, we’ve crafted a common language, across the organization. It serves as the crucible where collective understanding takes shape, catalyzing our evolution.”

Central to this collaborative culture is the development of strategic ‘Product Roadmaps.’ These blueprints, accessible across the organization, nurture cohesion and alignment. Thomas explains, “Our accessible product roadmaps act as beacons, guiding us with clarity and unity, empowering every individual within our teams.

The dynamic interplay of data and decision-making finds is epitomized by the “Mastercard Catalogue.” Thomas underscores, “Our data-driven decisions are woven into the fabric of our culture. The comprehensive Mastercard catalogue enables agility, offering real-time insights that steer our investments towards continuous growth.”

Words of Wisdom

For individuals intrigued by the realms of product and technology, Thomas offers three valuable pieces of advice. He suggests, “The first step is to engage in a dual journey of reading and listening. Establishing a robust foundational understanding is paramount and gleaning insights from others serves as an excellent launchpad.”

Thomas’s second counsel revolves around introspection and passion. He emphasizes, “Probe your inner motivations and unearth what truly ignites your enthusiasm. Your greatest contributions will materialize within roles that resonate deeply, infusing your work with purpose.”

The third facet of Thomas’s advice encompasses an embrace of change and uncertainty. He encourages, “Embrace life’s unpredictability, akin to a meandering path. While ambition and focus are commendable, a receptive stance towards the unknown is equally vital. The road less traveled might present unforeseen opportunities that reshape your journey in remarkable ways.”

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