Michael Phillips and the Origins of MasterCard

" In the early 1990's I read two obituaries in the New York Times about people who were said to have been "founders of MasterCard". Since both men had become involved with the card years after it was an established success, I decided to set the record straight. I also looked at the one existing book on the history of credit cards and it had no appreciation of the role of MasterCard in the history of credit cards, nor did it have any usable historic information.

By 1994, only two people involved with the founding were still alive. I paid a journalist to interview one, Robert Footman, the first head of marketing for MasterCard and clearly one of the main founders. I went to Seattle and interviewed the other, George Briggs, who was with me at the founding meeting and active with the card for many years.

The founding meeting is described in Gifford Pinchot III's book Intrapreneuring. I told my story to Gifford in the early 1970's and he included it in his book. The facts were checked by the publisher with all of the people alive at the time of the book, which was nearly everyone involved. (click here) This file is 9K, about three pages.

Bob Footman was the advertising wiz at the Bank of America for Bankamericard. When the new card was being formed, Bob was the first person hired. This is how he tells the history. (Click here). This file is 43K.

The final founder of MasterCard who was interviewed was George Briggs. (Click here). This is a long verbatim interview136K.

The historic relevance of MasterCard arises for one reason that was vital to the growth and present-day significance of bank credit cards.

MasterCard was conceived and created as a credit card to be owned and issued by many banks. At the time there were only travel & entertainment cards; the only bank card was wholly owned by Bank of America.

Without the full participation and cooperation of the banking community, bank credit cards would have been a disaster, with only Bankamericard surviving in a very small market dominated by travel and entertainment cards.

While MasterCard was being created, in its first six months, a group of banks in Chicago issued a bank credit card that was so ill-conceived that it failed within four months and lost each participating bank tens of millions of dollars. If Mastercard had not entered the market at that time, it might never have started, because word of mouth among bankers was about the colossal failure of the Chicago bank card.

A superb history of this subject was written by Michael Turner in Tokyo in 2001. (Click here)