Mudassir Sheikha, the co-founder and CEO of Careem has turned his ride-hailing service into a regional innovation giant that rivals global giant Uber
Is there a moonshot idea that you are currently intrigued by? Are there any you are pursuing in your business?
Our boldest initiative is to become the Internet-commerce-enabling platform for the region. In the process of building Careem, we have built a lot of the infrastructure required to build and run a regional consumer internet business at scale. We are moving into ‘platform-isation’ for our infrastructure now and the plan is to open it up to the ecosystem to build on top of our infrastructure and build regional consumer Internet businesses much faster and cheaper.
What does diversity mean to you? How are you pursuing this in your organisation? Are there any tangible results you can share?
Diversity to us means people from different ethnicities, gender and ideologies. We are blessed to have people from around 68 nationalities represented at Careem, and believe that this diversity makes us strong and resilient.
With talk of trade wars, tariffs, exchange rates in constant flux, oil price uncertainty, geopolitical turbulence, and a new emerging demographic entering the workplace, how are you keeping up with the pace of change?
There is a lot of noise. The key is to stay focused on the needs of your customers (in our case this is passengers and captains) and make sure that we are constantly addressing their needs and evolving with them. The rest is all a distraction.
Where do great ideas come from in your organisation?
They really do come from everywhere. If an organisation relies on the people at the top to come up with the ideas, and then filter those down the ladder, they will wither and die. We ask colleagues to come up with ideas, make suggestions and take ownership.
How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?
We have a sign in the office that says “Quiet people are dangerous” and it’s true. We always encourage people to speak up, offer feedback and communicate with their colleagues. Collaboration promotes creativity.
What is the most important/biggest decision you’ve ever had to make for your company?
The very first thing we did on day one was to write down our values and make everyone aware of them. The whole notion of building an awesome organisation in the region, for the region, that can inspire others with our world-class conduct, our people, our tech, is something that we set out to do and still aspire to achieve. Those values are still our North Star.
What would you say to a new employee about the culture of Careem?
We are not bosses and employees, we are all colleagues, owners and stakeholders. You have stock options so if the company does well so do you. If you see something that can be improved then speak up, if you have an idea then tell someone, and no, you don’t have to wear a tie.
Do you value education or experience? What is the biggest determinant of a person’s progress at a company or in the industry?
They’re intrinsically linked. We have people at Careem who were educated at Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Stanford, MIT and other prestigious institutions, and while that is all extremely valuable the real key is the desire to keep learning every day and that builds the experience that takes you forward through life.
What are three characteristics that every leader should possess?
Humility, curiosity and passion.
What advice would you give to someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Listen to what all people in the company have to say and encourage feedback, it’s the best way of correcting the direction of the business and maintaining the right course.
What’s one mistake that leaders make more frequently than others?
Worrying about what other companies are doing. Focus on your own mission. If you’re constantly second-guessing what others are doing, you’ll only ever finish second.
What inspires you?
The Captains who work for us. We’ve created over 975,000 jobs in the MENA region and are on course to create one million before the end of the year. We give people mobility, but with the jobs we create we also give people social mobility though meaningful employment.
Finish this sentence, “The world would be a better place if only….”
…everyone treated others the way they want to be treated themselves. And better Wi-Fi!