Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new Coronavirus COVID-19 a global pandemic, economies across the globe have been deeply affected, and many businesses have felt the sting of the pandemic.
However, it is during this period that your skills as a leader are tested. From managing teams that are working remotely, to managing major projects that have suddenly been put on hold, and to figuring out how to take care of family dynamics due to school closures, this situation is forcing all of us to work and lead in new ways.
In one way or another as a leader, the current situation has forced you to make tough decisions. Now more than ever there is so much that is expected of you. Your job is to keep your feet on the ground and your sights on the big picture while still tending to what is needed right now.
Recently, we had an interview with Dip Patel, General Manager at SWVL Kenya, who joined SWVL, amidst the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
SWVL who is also a member of Nairobi Garage, is an alternative to public transportation in Cairo, Alexandria, Nairobi, and Lahore that offers you high-quality rides with fixed lines, timings, and prices.
In this month’s Zoom-In Feature, Dip shares his journey as a leader, the tough decisions he has made over the crisis period, and what his future ambitions for the company look like post-COVID-19.
Here are the interview excerpts:
DP: The toughest decision we have had to make so far is scaling down operations to only run what is essential. This was a tough call but the right thing to do. I believe taking a step back to plan will pay great dividends in the long run.
DP: I’m constantly learning. My role is to appreciate the vision of the company, understand the potential in of SWVL Kenya in this market and to have in place a great, motivated team aligned on delivering a strong performance in the most effective, ethical and respectable manner possible.
DP: Joining SWVVL Kenya during an ongoing pandemic has reinforced the need for planning ahead, thinking about a longer-term and advocating for sustainable business practices – things that could be easy to neglect in the favour of aggressive growth.
DP: I started my career in Kenya as a Strategy and Operations Advisory Associate at PwC from where I joined Uber as the Marketing Manager for Kenya around when Uber had just launched in Nairobi. I learned a lot given the scale and pace at Uber where I grew into an Operations role across East Africa and ultimately served as the Country Manager for Kenya.
I transitioned from Uber to Apollo Agriculture, a technology startup that helps small-scale farmers maximize their profits. At Apollo Agriculture, I enjoyed supporting the application of technology to rural populations before having the opportunity to come back to focus on changing the way Nairobi moves through Swvl Kenya.
DP: At the moment, there is no day at the office. We work from home and it has taken some time to stabilize a new routine amidst all the change and uncertainty. Now, I have a desk and designated space at home that serves as my temporary office off which I take an unsustainable number of calls in between all the emails that have to be responded to. I’m working towards a new routine to put in place as we all work towards normalcy.
DP: I’ve had a fast-paced career accelerated by being in hyper-growth technology startups at times when they are scaling rapidly. I imagine the lowest point that may also be the best learning opportunity could still be ahead of me.
DP: My mother – I grew up watching her independently grow a career that she fought for and defended against many odds. She never gave up and never let any negativity influence her. She worked hard to build a great lifestyle for herself and her family while not letting the company that she has served for decades now shut down. Giving up would have been the easier thing to do several times but as she describes it, she cannot let the livelihoods of her 40+ staff be affected for as long as she is in charge.
DP: I wish I had a better answer here but I’m in search of it. I try very hard to keep weekends free and after work hours, I stay away from my phone as much as possible by not looking at messages or email. The team knows that I am available on call whenever they need me, but I openly encourage the team to turn off work after their workday and on weekends to recharge. I am also a believer in taking holidays whenever possible while being completely offline.
DP: This is a deep question. I’d be making something up if I answered this question directly. I am in search of one and would love to hear how more people respond to this question!
DP: This would be better answered by the teams I have had the privilege to be a part of. We will have to see if we can get some insights from future 360-degree performance feedback. I am sure I have many weaknesses and I’d like to learn about as many of them as possible and assess any costs they’ve had before picking the greatest one ☺
DP: Find work that you love. Don’t let yourself get stuck doing something that does not give you joy. Take more risks faster. I feel that I did this and have managed to find work I really care about with people I learn so much from and I’d remind myself not to be nervous about change.
DP: We’re going to indisputably change the way Nairobi moves for the better and we’ll do that in the most sustainable manner possible, in a way that Kenya as a whole can be proud of our work. We’d like to effectively scale to more counties while also looking broadly beyond our current borders.
DP: Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and former CEO of Uber. I’d ask him how he is and what his greatest learning at Uber was. Uber would not be the business it is without his vision, direction, persistence and cultural values. I learned a lot at Uber and look up to him for the magic his leadership made in the world.