Uber’s general manager for Australia and New Zealand Susan Anderson is building a powerful legacy as a leader. She sits down with Women’s Agenda to discuss her love of “scary” ideas and how she’s making an impact at one of the world’s greatest tech companies.
“What I care about most when I look back is… that I was able to inspire and create an inclusive, engaging environment where really smart people could do smart things to try and help the world we’re living in,” says Anderson.
When she first joined Uber’s regional team for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), it was a fraction of the 600-strong giant it is today.
According to Anderson, her first challenge was to launch UberEATS across the region and what better way to start than with a “scary” goal.
“I remember talking to the team at the time and saying, ‘I’d like us to launch the first six cities and I want us to do it in three-and-a-half months’,” she says. “They looked at me like I was crazy.”
Approaching it as a “fun” challenge that would teach everyone how to scale up operations rapidly, Anderson and her team dived in. “I like to think when people work with me that they achieve more than they ever thought they were going to achieve because we set goals that seem scary,” she says.
In just nine months, UberEATS was up and running in 20 cities and towns.
Today, Anderson is responsible for Uber’s ANZ operations and her leadership is making an impact on the brand at an international level. “I introduced the Uber business to a decision-making tool called Rapid,” she says.
Rapid is a framework that Anderson picked up at Bain & Company, where she had done a lot of work around decision-making effectiveness. Soon, it captured the attention of Uber headquarters and she was invited to coach the tech giant’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi and other top executives on the tool.
Anderson says Uber has now deployed it globally. “It provided people with empowerment about what the decisions were that they could make and it made it a lot clearer by how somebody goes from an idea to a decision with money and resources behind it.”
GOT IMPOSTER SYNDROME? SHAKE IT OFF
Before inspiring some of the world’s most innovative teams at tech giants like Uber and Amazon, Anderson once found the thought of being the executive decision-maker of a business quite scary.
“When I graduated from university, I remember thinking about whether I would ever be the CEO of a company one day and I remember thinking ‘oh no, I don’t think I want that [because] I would find it really hard to be the one making the decisions,” she says.
As Anderson would later discover, the opposite is true. But at the time, she had no role models to look up to. “Anyone who did that seemed very alien to me,” she says.
Once upon a time, Anderson even struggled with “imposter syndrome”. “For a long time, [I felt I] was there by chance and maybe one day people would realise that I wasn’t smart enough to be in the room,” she says.
But Anderson has proved these doubts to be completely false and she encourages others who struggle with similar thoughts to not feel intimidated and “give it a go”. “I have the privilege of sitting in a lot of rooms with very senior people across Australia, New Zealand and within Uber,” she says. “And I see that I and lots of other people who may think they don’t have lots to contribute absolutely do.”
LEADING THE CHARGE FOR “ON DEMAND PUBLIC TRANSPORT”
With plans for Uber’s highly anticipated initial public offering in full swing, Anderson is now laser-focused on ensuring the ANZ branch continues to perform well in collaboration with governments, regulators and partners.
One of the most exciting projects she’s working on is the potential for Uber to deliver “on demand public transport” in Australia, she says. UberPool lets different customers heading to a similar destination share a ride together. Since launching in Melbourne and Sydney in 2018, more than 1 million such trips have been completed.
Anderson believes this technology could be applied to the public transport system to make better use of under-utilised buses and ferries. She’s currently leading a trial, in partnership with New South Wales transport authorities, using ferries in Manly.
“A shared-rides type product, we believe, could offer substantial cost reductions for governments as well as actually providing a much better customer experience.”
HOW TO LAUNCH INTO NEW MARKETS SUCCESSFULLY
According to Anderson, there are some fundamental drivers for success when launching a product or service into new markets. “Focus on the customer not the tech,” she says. “One of the mistakes people make is having sophisticated technology and using that as the sales piece.”
However, what customers really care about is whether a product or service actually solves a problem for them or provides them with an opportunity to do something differently.
It’s also critical to obsess over the details of your customer experience, she says, because it’s in these details where the magic happens. “A good idea executed brilliantly will always outperform a fabulous idea executed poorly,” she says. “So all of the details like price are very important. “You have to think about what that customer experience is going to be end-to-end.”
Finally, Anderson believes that business leaders should be prepared, willing and encourage “taking risks”.“You shouldn’t expect every idea to land,” she says.
“Continue to innovate and make sure you have really good feedback channels so that when things aren’t working you are using data [and] you’re not trying to persist with something customers are telling you isn’t working.”