Top 100 Executives 2020: Richard Fairbank, CEO, Capital One

Regularly hailed as a leading entrepreneur in finance and technology, Richard Fairbank is part of the illustrious “$1 salary” club.

Regularly hailed as a leading entrepreneur in finance and technology, Richard Fairbank is part of the illustrious “$1 salary” club.

Richard Fairbank spent much of his twenties running a community center in 1970s California, but before long it became clear that finance and technology would propel him to stardom. In 1981, taking an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he graduated top of his class, and went on to become a partner at Strategic Planning Associates, a consultancy with an edge in data-modelling. When the company was bought out by Marsh & McLennan and merged painfully with another company, numerous employees left, including Fairbank and a colleague named Nigel Morris.

Fairbank graduated top of his MBA class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Fairbank and Morris dreamed of a bank that offered retail credit cards with a wide range of plans – a novel concept in 1980s America, where most banks offered a flat credit card plan with interest at around 20%. Shopping their idea to numerous banks, they faced numerous rejections until Signet Bank took a chance on them on in 1990. Fairbank went on to run the credit card unit there, a unit that became so big – thanks to the huge popularity of lower interest rates among ordinary consumers – that it was spun off into Capital One in 1994.

Fortune 100
Since then, Fairbank has taken the company stratospheric, overseeing its data-driven combination of finance and consumer marketing; it has been in the Fortune 500 for 20 years, and last year finally cracked the Fortune 100, coming in at #98.

Fairbank’s philosophy on finding opportunities in crises is particularly relevant in 2020: “When the world is about to change, the ones that are closest to it are usually the last to see it. Our greatest opportunities come in the debris of crisis…. Out of the ashes of near failure, come our greatest opportunities. We want to find a way to harness the bad energy that’s out there and be a catalyst for change.”

Since 1997, Fairbank has been one of the illustrious “$1 salary” club – an unaffiliated group of businesspeople including Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg and Lee Iacocca, who, thanks to other forms of executive compensation, take home a base salary of $1 or less.


Read the full Special Report: Top 100 Executives 2020

For the third year in a row Leaders League has put together its ranking of the top 100 executives in the world. Covering five key aspects of the economy across five continents, we profile 2020's captains of industry.
Summary The cream of the crop


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