Sanjiv Yajnik, president of Capital One Financial Services, makes giving back his business.
Making hard choices
Sanjiv Yajnik, president of Capital One Financial Services in Plano, considers Bruce Lee one of his personal heroes. Once a martial arts instructor, Sanjiv adopted Lee’s philosophy, “Be like water”, as one of his own. “No matter what situation you get into, understand that situation and adapt,” he says. “That’s really helped me.”
His guiding principle, however, came from Mother Teresa and from volunteering in her orphanage, Shishu Bhavan. “Leadership is not about doing things for oneself,” he says. “It’s about doing things for a greater good that is far beyond our own selves.”
Sanjiv grew up in Kolkata, India. There, he went to St. Xavier’s School and once a week, from first grade through to graduation, worked at Shishu Bhavan. “Mother Teresa was like an aunt to me,” Sanjiv says. “I remember complaining about mundane things … and tugging on her gown.” Her advice was always sage: Don’t worry; things will be better; work harder; be good.
In fourth grade, Sanjiv served meals in the cafeteria. One day, he stumbled and tripped over a boy he had been serving food to. The pair fell to the ground. When Sanjiv opened his eyes, he saw his own eyes staring right back at him. “I was looking at myself on the other side,” he recalls. That instant changed his perspective on life. “I drove my parents crazy asking, ‘Why was I born to you? Why is that boy there? Who am I?’ I started bringing people home, people who needed help,” he says. “I realized that, at a fundamental level, we are all identical. Whatever’s happening to someone else could easily be happening to us … and we need to take action.”
Since then, Sanjiv has dedicated his life to giving back. The role doesn’t easily jive with the image of a man at the helm of one of Plano’s largest corporations with an extensive eight-building campus and approximately 5,000 employees, known at Capital One as “associates”. Recently, the company hit the headlines for the decision to exit their originations in mortgage and home equity businesses, eliminating over 750 jobs in Plano.
When we meet, Sanjiv is wearing a chic sports jacket over a blue shirt with floral cuffs. He’s carrying a tea cup filled to the brim with green tea. When he notices my British accent, he immediately launches into a story about running the London Marathon and raising so much money he was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet Cherie Blair, wife of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This year celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Plano campus, Capital One Financial Services has given back to our community in a variety of ways—including making sure every single one of those 750 associates were taken care of.
“Closing down a business is one of the hardest things one can ever do,” he says. Then he smiles and adds, “The associates and the work that was done here was unbelievable … amazing work. The problem we faced was not associates doing a bad job. It was all structural.”
With no option but to close that part of business, Sanjiv remembered the advice of his heroes—Bruce Lee and Mother Teresa—and forged ahead in the only way he knew how. In addition to giving ample notice and a very generous separation package, the company committed to helping impacted associates through the transition.
The company opened an on-site Career Development Center to provide individuals with assistance in resume writing, interview skills and coaching and also hosted multiple job fairs. “Some companies took entire teams intact,” says Sanjiv. “Other associates decided to go back to college, some decided to change careers.”
The art of innovation
Nowadays, Sanjiv is focused on the future. “We’re on the cusp of an industrial revolution,” he says. “In the next five to 10 years, there will be more change than in the last 50. So, imagining what that could be and then taking action today is what we are about.”
Of course, Sanjiv is not willing to reveal details of what they are planning. He is, however, very excited about AI which he considers as “augmented intelligence”, not artificial intelligence. “Augmented intelligence is how technology comes together with the human spirit,” he explains.
At the 2018 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Capital One gave visitors an immersive peek into how the company is building simple, effortless experiences for its customers. The company previewed an upcoming new technology, built using augmented reality, that can recognize a car via your phone camera and tell you all about it. “If you see a car that you like, you can hold your phone up, and once the car is on screen, it will show you the make, model and year,” Sanjiv says.
Once launched, this feature will be available to Capital One customers on the Capital One Mobile app and will be part of Auto Navigator, a cloud-based web application which “helps you find and finance your next vehicle all in one place.” Essentially, it helps you get pre-qualified for financing (without affecting your credit score), searches thousands of vehicles according to your criteria, estimates monthly payments and provides information about the closest dealership.
“We’re doing some massive innovation, and for the first time in a long time, art and science need to come together to create.”
Sanjiv believes that the union of art and engineering is key to innovation. “I’m trying to lead our division on what I call ‘making the jump’ into a new world,” he says. “Innovation requires design—human centered design—and that’s an art. Innovation and inspiration comes from art.”
From the colored paper airplanes suspended about the metallic slide that descends into the lobby of building seven to Moth Ram by Shawn Smith, a multi-colored ram’s head crafted from particle board that looks like it was made out of LEGOs, Sanjiv’s passion for art, artistic expression and innovation in the workplace is evident across Capital One’s sprawling campus.
Driving into Capital One off Dominion Parkway, I pass a softball field, a line of colored deck chairs on the sidelines, and a man riding a cute blue and red bike. Wearing a suit, his ID badge flaps in the wind. He’s just one of many associates who take advantage of Capital One’s bike-share program.
Inside, we photograph Sanjiv in the Garage, Capital One’s innovation center, a physical maker space. He poses by a partially deconstructed Chevy. Around the corner is a LEGO table where associates have spelled out “HAPPY” and a white board with the words, “What ‘chu gonna make?”, scrawled across it. This 36,000 square-feet of office space is staffed by approximately 200 people whose focus is driving innovation all the way from rapid prototyping to in-market launch. The Garage has been used for everything from hosting internal hackathons, think tanks and trainings to meet-ups for the tech community and entrepreneurs.
The executive offices are right across the hall. Here, and everywhere across the campus, artwork covers the walls: a huge canvas of a cowboy driving a Vespa; a clown that looks like he’s having a very bright idea; a black and white sketch of an armadillo perched somewhat ominously above the skull of a longhorn and a ferocious rattlesnake.
“At the end of the day, inspiration is divine. It descends on us through the many ways we think about art,” he says.
Another of Sanjiv’s heroes is Michelangelo. “He sings to me,” he says. “Because of his art, but also the engineering he used to do his art.” He’s fascinated by the Pietà, a sculpture that depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary, which is housed within St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. “How do you make that? A carving of a full grown man on a slender woman. It’s a feat of engineering, the way he created it and supported it.”
Creating vibrant communities
Sanjiv is equally passionate about the community. “We want to make sure that we’re helping our community, not for the sake of our business but for the sake of the community. Do you know how many homeless shelters we have in Collin County?” he asks. “One, there’s just one. The Samaritan Inn.” Capital One is one of Samaritan Inn’s top supporters and helped the foundation fulfill their long term goal of creating a call center program.
Elsewhere in the community, the company is heavily invested in education and youth. Over the last decade they have: purchased two large school buses for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Collin County; taught more than 600 students basic principles of software development and how to create their own apps via their Coders Program; and provide grant funding to Collin College. They also partner on a variety of services with PISD including: The Barron Elementary Makerspace Project which encourages creativity, inventiveness and experimental problem solving through the provision of STEAM activities; Plano Family Literacy School (PFLS) which builds healthy families by developing life, literacy and parenting skills through intergenerational education; and the Bookshelves and Blankets Project which provides new bookshelves for home libraries and nap-time security blankets to families who have limited means to provide these items for themselves.
For Sanjiv, supporting the community is non-negotiable. “I believe vibrant communities make vibrant businesses,” he says. “What you put into the community gives back to you in ways you can’t imagine.”
Yet, he is the first to acknowledge that he can’t do it alone. With the aim to sustain the booming Collin County community, he founded the Collin County Business Alliance (CCBA).
“By acting as a catalyst to address key issues such as water, education and transportation, today, we will ensure that our already successful county has an even brighter future,” the organization’s website states.
While Sanjiv serves as chairman of the board, members of CCBA include executives from Ericsson, Hall Financial Group, Granite Properties, United Healthcare North Texas and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc.
“Companies envision tomorrow and take action today and we want to do that for the community in a way that makes our communities stronger, that makes our communities thrive,” he says. “We focus on things like water. Unless we get ahead of the curve, we are going to run out of water in Collin County … and it takes 20 to 25 years to build a new reservoir.”
One achievement Sanjiv is particularly proud of is the success of Collin County Votes, a voting campaign initiated by CCBA. “Voter turnout in Collin County [in the 2018 Primary] was 18.91 percent; that’s a 47 percent increase compared to 2016,” says Sanjiv. Collin County Votes is an unbiased platform that aims to empower voters with information on how and where to vote, who is running and key issues. “It’s not about who to vote for; people need to vote their conscious. But we want people to be engaged,” Sanjiv says.
When Sanjiv was a young boy he wanted to be a teacher, a doctor and a world traveller. But most of all he wanted to be a dad. Today, his principal goal is to help others. And, in that respect, he is leading by example, for the community and for his son.