Technological disruption is so radically transforming industries across the spectrum that it is referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. At the forefront of this global revolution are chartered accountants like Frans Hiemstra, head of partner channels at Uber.
While almost every industry, from finance to farming, is impacted, Uber stands out as one of the most spectacular examples of disruption in an industry.
‘The winning business of today is the enterprise that effectively leverages entrepreneurial thinking to come up with bold new ways to solve real problems for the target market,’ says Hiemstra. ‘Uber is a prime example of this entrepreneurial evolution. While the primary outcome of our business is that our customers get from A to B, we don’t consider ourselves a transport company. We don’t even own any vehicles. Rather, Uber is a technology business, and our success stems from our ability to leverage technology to deliver innovative ways for our customers to get where they want to go.’
For challenging the status quo in the transport industry through the power of new technology, Uber is frequently labelled a ‘disruptor’. ‘A good business idea improves people’s lives in the simplest way,’ comments Hiemstra. ‘To improve, companies need to disrupt. As such, Uber considers itself a disruptor that is harnessing rapidly evolving tech for transformative purposes. We are solving real-world problems and positively impacting on the livelihoods of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa, enabling economic opportunities and offering commuters more choice.”
Enabling new businesses
The stellar growth in global and local numbers of Uber riders bears testimony to the efficiency of the business model. And it’s a business model with unlimited potential to expand, as evidenced by the ongoing addition of new services like Uber Eats, Uber Scheduled Rides, and UberASSIST, which are also attracting a rapidly growing number of users globally.
Uber drivers are independent contractors and are not employed by Uber, creating real opportunities for entrepreneurs. Uber’s driver-partners approach allows entrepreneurs to supplement their income and to become thriving transport business owners.
‘I am inspired to see how our driver-partners take the Uber opportunity to uplift themselves and to become business owners, improving the lives of their families and communities. Driver-partners from all walks of life have chosen to commit to the Uber concept and have built up their businesses from scratch. As just one example, a local driver-partner who used pack shopping bags in a grocery store now runs a fleet of cars on Uber.’
Leading the disruption
As a SAICA member, Hiemstra is also leading disruption in his own profession, as technology transforms the traditional role of accountants and auditors. No longer simply verifying accounting results, today’s CAs(SA) are focused increasingly on providing strategic advice, interpretation, risk management, fraud detection and other value-add activities.
In his role as Uber’s head of partner channels, Hiemstra is evidence of this shift. ‘At Uber, I head up expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa, launching new products in existing cities and expanding into new geographies. We recently launched a number of low-cost products, including motorbikes in Kampala, tuk-tuks in Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, and a low-cost version of UberX with Suzuki Alto 800s in Nairobi. Additionally, we are currently reviewing new markets in sub-Saharan Africa for potential launches in the near term.’
Launching new products and entering new geographies pose many challenges. ‘CAs(SA) are at the forefront of solving complex problems in today’s disrupted market place. Given our commitment to responsible leadership, we need to navigate the unfamiliar and grey areas without compromising on ethics. We have a responsibility to ensure we are always doing the right thing,’ says Hiemstra.
‘The CA(SA) designation positions our members as “leaders in business” and embodies the strategic, leadership and governance role that each CA(SA) is qualified to perform,’ comments Mandi Olivier, Senior Executive of Professional Development at SAICA, the country’s premier institute of chartered accountants, whose members have achieved the strongest business, accounting, audit and finance designation in South Africa and the world.
‘In line with our corporate value of responsible leadership, SAICA has committed itself and its members to play a significant role in implementing sustainable solutions. It is therefore inevitable that CAs(SA) adopt an increasingly advisory role, strategically plotting a course for their clients in a continually disrupted business environment and applying their knowledge and technical skills to provide relevant business advice,’ says Olivier.
Hiemstra is confident in his ability as a CA(SA) to take on these responsibilities. ‘My dad’s work as a CA(SA) sparked my interest in the corporate world. Thanks to a study bursary from Deloitte that enabled me to obtain a CA(SA) qualification, I have the general business acumen that makes me a well-rounded contributor to the Uber business and strong problem-solving abilities that I use every day,’ he says. ‘I also have an amazing wife who is an actress and brings a fresh perspective and a lot of creativity into our lives. This allows me to be a more rounded CA(SA), ready to pursue opportunities and address challenges in a disrupted business world.’
Hiemstra concludes with a few words of advice for other disruptors: ‘There is always space for improvement. More disruption and innovation are inevitable. Disruption is also dynamic, requiring strategic thinking and the ability to adapt quickly to stay relevant. Always anticipate the next big disruption opportunity and how it can create more value for your customers.’