Years in Tech
General Manager, West Africa, Uber
Problem Solving, Analytics, Strategy and Policy Development, Management Operations.
14th December 2018
Lola is a seasoned professional with over 10 years of international experience working at senior private sector and government levels in Africa and Canada in operations, strategy, and policy. She currently leads Uber’s business across West Africa, which includes operations in Nigeria and Ghana.
She previously worked as a management consultant across West and Southern Africa and as Governance Advisor in Liberia. Lola began her career with the Canadian government where she was served as a Policy Advisor to senior officials and managed policy units.
Lola holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and an MSc from the London School of Economics where she was a Chevening Scholar.
What experiences led you to technology and how did you develop the skills to compete in the industry?
At first glance, I have a non-traditional background for someone in a leadership role in the tech industry. I’m not a software engineer or a UX designer; I haven’t done any programming since high school.
What I am, however, is someone who likes to solve problems and take on challenges – particularly challenges around how we can improve the quality of people’s everyday lives. This is what drew me to work in government, where I started my career working on economic development challenges for indigenous communities in Canada. It’s here – advising senior officials and managing government programs – that I learned how governments operate, both at the public service and the political ends. I acquired skills in stakeholder management and gained an understanding how input is received from citizens; how priorities are set; how decisions are made; and how this translates into programs and projects delivered on the ground. I then had the opportunity to work with the Liberian government – drawing on these skills, but now within the West African context.
I moved into management consulting, having gained solid public sector experience, but now wanting to broaden my skill set – particular within the private sector, the engine of economic growth. Here, I learned what problems are most critical to CEOs and business leaders in Africa; I sharpened my problem-solving skills; amped up my analytical skills and financial knowledge; and learned how to develop and communicate killer strategies. During my consulting years, I worked on digital and technology strategy for some corporate clients. But while I found these projects to be quite exciting and intellectually interesting, at the time, I never envisioned myself having a career squarely in the tech industry.
What excited me most about technology, however, is the power it has to impact lives – to enhance how we live day to day. I was drawn to working at Uber because I could clearly see the way that the company’s technology was having a positive impact on people’s lives – on the one hand, creating opportunity by making it markedly easier for people to move around their cities and on the other hand, providing flexible opportunities for people with access to cars to make money. This was impact I could very easily relate to and I wanted to be part of this vision.
And even though my skill set wasn’t tech – I had a well-rounded set of strategy, management, operations, and people skills that positioned me well to head a leading tech company’s business in West Africa.
How has your background helped/differentiated you in the tech industry?
My experiences in consulting have taught me fearlessness in the face of what may seem like impossible problems. I have the ability and confidence to confront problems head on – breaking them down into what really needs to be done; assessing what resources can be leveraged for the tasks at hand; and mobilizing the right people to execute.
Ridesharing technologies like Uber, connect the digital and physical worlds and consequently have a massive impact on the way we live, and in particular, how we move around our cities. As a result, governments are key stakeholders for many technology companies. My background in the public sector has served me well in engaging with policy makers across the region as we move to a world in which ride-sharing is the norm.
My approach remains very people-centric – my focus every day is on how our technology can be leveraged to provide better experiences for our customers – both riders and driver partners.
What advice would you give to women considering a career in technology? What do you wish you had known?
Don’t feel that you need to have a tech-heavy background to succeed in the industry. If you do, that’s great! But if not, think about all of the other skill sets and functions that technology companies need to succeed – everything from design to communications, finance, analytics, operations, marketing, government relations, human resources, and more. Think about which skills you have or are passionate about developing and explore how you can use these to contribute in tech.
I would also say – be curious. Make every opportunity that you can to learn about things you’re interested in and explore your passions. You can’t predict now where your experiences will lead you to along the way – so dive in, and make the most of all opportunities to grow.
It’s 2019. There is no reason for anyone to doubt that women can succeed and lead in any field, technology included. Work hard, explore your passions, leverage your networks for knowledge and support, and you will shine.