The technological disruption brought about by the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has, in combination with the COVID-19 pandemic, created a profoundly changed reality and operating environment for companies and 2021 will continue to be dominated by technology and adaptability.
Businesses are still trying to play catch-up from the staggering level of business disruption as lockdown regulation curtailed revenue streams, particularly in sectors in the mobility, alcohol and tourism spaces, challenging companies to continue to generate new revenue streams and reduce costs to ensure business continuity and prospects for future growth.
Leaders who have a background or current role in accounting or auditing can use their skills and experience to face these kinds of challenges. Three such chartered accountants are Frans Hiemstra, Uber’s General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Unam Mahlati, Senior Operations and Logistics Manager for Uber SSA, and Timothy Kiluba, who is the New Models Lead Operations Manager for SSA at Uber.
Be the disruptive change to keep from becoming a victim of it
Frans Hiemstra, who took on the role of General Manager for Uber in SSA in June 2020, says it is critical to remain agile to ensure you are ready to react to short-term disruption, the pandemic being a great example. It is, however, important to have your strategy mapped out for the next five to ten years, with the flexibility to pivot as some companies will emerge to disrupt your business model. Always think about the next opportunity and how you can create more value for your customers.
Hiemstra worked closely with his teams in seven countries to leverage technology, build innovative partnerships and adapt to the ‘new normal’ while supporting the needs of their Uber community.
According to him, being a disruptor might seem chaotic, but knowing when it’s the right time to introduce an innovative product could make or break your success. For example, South Africa had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to limit movement, which meant more people stayed at home and ordered goods online. While the business community saw an increase in consumer demand, many quickly reached capacity and were forced to either turn orders down or possibly delay the fulfilment of orders.
This is when Uber decided to adapt their technology to offer a last-mile delivery solution for businesses. This solution was evident in the company’s partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in South Africa. They utilised Uber’s technology to deliver more than 480 000 pieces of chronic medication to vulnerable patients during the lockdowns. Ensuring this was rolled out at the right time was vital to the success of the product.
On the Eats side: the rise of at-home deliveries for everyday essentials and the trend towards this for years to come, saw the business invest further to grow the number and diversity of grocery, retail and convenience merchants available via the app. This reimagined experience will ensure business continuity not only for Uber Eats but also their partners.
As a member SAICA, Hiemstra is also leading disruption in his own profession, as technology transforms the traditional role of both accountants and auditors. ‘You can no longer simply verify accounting results, because today’s CAs are focused increasingly on providing strategic advice, interpretation of data, risk management as well as numerous other value-add activities.’
Launching new products and entering new geographies pose many challenges for companies, but Hiemstra says that CAs should be at the forefront of solving complex problems within today’s disrupted marketplace. The reasoning for this is their commitment to responsible leadership, which sees them being better able to navigate the unfamiliar and grey areas without compromising on ethics.
Innovating Uber services to keep COVID-19 from eating away at the revenue
Unam Mahlati is a registered chartered accountant and completed her BCom degree at the University of Cape Town. Uber was a natural landing spot for her. Growing up in South Africa, Unam found herself always having a passion for social impact and using technology to provide solutions. She now lives out this passion as she has the privilege of working on incredibly complex logistical problems.
As Senior Operations and Logistics Manager Marketplace for Uber SSA, this sees her being responsible for the pricing of the Uber products, investment strategy and additions to the Uber product portfolio in different markets.
Unam believes that being a CA enables doors to open as people are willing to give you a chance as they know the value a CA holder brings. The high-quality training of articles helped instil a great work ethic, integrity and ethical compass that has enabled Unam to be a high performer in her various roles, including her current role at Uber.
She highlighted that the initial challenge was during the lockdowns across SSA. The business needed to innovate and outline opportunities and solutions.
This resulted in the business having to come up with new products and features such as Uber by the Hour, which was added to Uber’s suite of products in Tanzania, making errands easier while providing additional income for drivers.
She believes that while business was challenging for many companies, opportunities were found and they expedited and evolved the delivery and logistics business for the 4IR and beyond.
Charting the reputational management course and accounting for a company’s regulatory compliance
Timothy Kiluba, New Models Lead Operations Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Uber, is also a strong proponent of the role of CAs as guardians of a company’s ethics. ‘Reputational damage can be repaired by admitting that mistakes have been made, understanding the reasons that led to these mistakes and lastly, embodying more than ever the values and attributes that are required in this profession which are professionalism, scepticism and integrity.’
The pandemic necessitated the need for innovation and resulted in novel service offerings like Uber Connect, a cost-effective on-demand delivery solution and UberNAM, an affordable option to cater to riders’ pricing needs. These were launched not just to improve economic opportunities but to adapt to the shift in consumer behaviour.
Kiluba, who became a chartered accountant in 2015, is responsible for formulating the strategy and managing the launch of new business models. This also requires a focus on developing risk management strategies. His favourite aspect of being a CA, Kiluba says, is the flexibility that the qualification affords him, as a CA develops valuable skills that are essential within many fields. Being a chartered accountant also gives one the ability to make complex issues easily understood by others in the business.
While 2020 permanently changed how businesses globally are run, it has proven that agility and partnership are key to succeed in 2021.
These three CAs(SA) and leaders are proving that crises inadvertently emanate in opportunity. Their growth mindset in tackling the challenges of the day and COVID-19 crises has kindled some of the business’s most fruitful ideas, creative projects, all while their astute leadership decisions motivate employees to think outside the norm. This not only assists their company in surviving the business continuity threat of the COVID-19 pandemic but also helps set up the business for greater success.