VISA’s Victory: How Hock Took VISA to the Top

When Hock arrived on the scene, the credit industry was collapsing right before his eyes. As banks raced to respond to the increasing demand, they found themselves out of their depths. Masses of people were being given pre-approved cards, including even children, pets and convicted felons – any lists of people that the banks could find. Fraud was rampant. Hock knew something had to change or the entire industry would soon give out.

But Hock was not your typical manager for the time. An avid reader, Hock was developing a new set of clearly defined principles by which he wanted to operate. He believed that companies that were hierarchical and put too much emphasis on control and following rules only served to stifle creativity and initiative, two key ingredients in any company’s success.

In 1968, Hock convinced the Bank of America to give up ownership and control of their BankAmericard program. He became CEO of a new company, National BankAmerica, which would be a non-stock membership cooperation owned in equal parts by all of its member banks. Among the banks would exist a common clearinghouse system, one that would reconcile all the accounts and ensure merchants would get paid for each purchase. But, instead of trying to restrict the partners, Hock took the unusual step of encouraging competition, saying, “Members are free to create, price, market, and service their own products under the VISA name.”

In 1976, National BankAmerica became VISA, and its success astonished even its backers. However, at the peak of it all, Hock decided to retire. For ten years, Hock lived in isolation, working on a 200-acre parcel of land in Northern California. How does he explain his decision?

“Through the years, I have greatly feared and sought to keep at bay the four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper – Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition. In 1984, I severed all connections with business for a life of isolation and anonymity, convinced I was making a great bargain by trading money for time, position for liberty, and ego for contentment – that the beasts were securely caged.”

During that time, Hock also founded the Chaordic Commons of Terra Civitas, a non-profit group devoted to conducting organizational experiments. It was active in everything from religion to breast feeding to geo data mapping.

“I had spent about 16 years in various management positions in the consumer finance industry, but my first love was literature and philosophy, not business,” recalls Hock. “I was struck by how dysfunctional most business organizations really were, how they crushed the human spirit and how often people were in severe conflict with the organizations of which they were part... The new challenge was to determine the organizational principles of a societal organization that would emulate the principles that nature seemed to use.”

For the rest of his career, Hock would come to symbolize a new breed of organizational ideas and concepts that were, what he called, “management-proof.” He never returned to VISA, but his legacy remains to this day.

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