“The challenges have overwhelmed me and tested my tenacity, but somehow I am still standing”
South African Matthew Lewis recently left the banking industry for a challenging and intense job at one of the most dynamic companies at present: Uber.
“I was looking for a brand new challenge and in a company that was literally changing the world we live in for the better. There seemed like no better option than trying my luck at applying for a job at Uber,’ says 28-year old Matthew Lewis from South Africa.
Matthew grew up in Johannesburg, where he lived with his mother and brother most of the time. His father moved to Cape Town when he was young and then later on to the Netherlands. “At school I always worked hard and did the best I could which helped me become the Dux Scholar in primary school and later in high school, I obtained my honours blazer and was appointed as Deputy Head Boy. I am extremely fortunate to have had two amazing and loving parents who have helped me explore the world and have never let me miss out on any opportunities which came my way, helping me grow into the person I am today.”
On an academic front, Matthew attended the University of Johannesburg where he went on to study a BComm Finance and then did his Honours in Investment Management. He started his MBA at the Business School Netherlands in February 2015 “in hopes of adding this prestigious degree to my educational achievements”. In his spare time, Matthew is also an occasional blogger at http://positiveprogression.space/.
Has the MBA played a role in your career move?
“It most definitely has! Both my MBA at BSN and working at Uber have truly gone hand in hand in unlocking my international understanding of the business world and how it works. My MBA was the pioneer for that in my life. I also feel that the MBA was key to opening the door for me at Uber due to the demand in trying to get into this company so without it I don’t think I would be in the fortunate position I am today.”
Why did you want to work at Uber – what is it about the company that appealed to you so much?
“I applied for an entry level position despite the fact that I had five years of working experience at Investec simply because I knew I needed to be a part of Uber’s story and see how I could make a difference. After a very rigorous interview process (a total of 9 interviews including an analytical test), I was placed in a very different role as a Regional Community Operations Manager, fundamentally responsible for all support in Sub-Saharan Africa. I found myself in an extremely challenging role with some very big shoes to fill. In fact, I wanted to work at Uber so badly that I even cashed in my provident fund to pay back Investec for my MBA when I left (talk about putting all your faith in a company you believe in!)”
And… has it paid off (so far)?
“Luckily, in my opinion, it has indeed paid off; Uber has also been very giving to me as it is extremely dynamic and fast paced which is very different from the old role I had within Investec. The calibre of people you work with is also of the highest calibre so you are always learning from everyone around you. I am also constantly dealing with people on calls and visits in every corner of the globe which has been an eye- opener and learning curve for me which has honestly been exponential. On a holistic front, I am honestly so proud of the work the teams at Uber are doing in creating jobs and positively impacting the cities we are presently in for the better. It is truly humbling seeing the daily sacrifices people make and the differences we are making in people’s lives.”
What was your main motivation to sign up for the MBA?
“I was motivated by a few personal goals and objectives which lead me to apply for my MBA at BSN specifically. I always feel like I need a challenge outside of work life and in something where I can improve myself as a person, whether it be in education, sports or a business/career goal. In this case, I wanted to take my career to the next level whilst getting an international qualification at the same time- both of which BSN could offer me. I also knew that to get my foot in the door at a company like Uber, I needed to get something on my CV that would help me stand out.”
What has been the greatest insight, eye-opener or learning moment of the MBA for you thus far?
“The biggest eye-opener was definitely the class interactions and discussions we had in group settings when we had classes. In these sessions we discussed problems and challenges we face daily in our own countries and companies as well as the issues we were unaware of in each of the counties/companies represented in the meeting. This is truly where the value came in doing an International MBA, as the opinions, challenges and solutions were extremely diverse due to the various nations being represented. It clearly showed that we have a global responsibility to help those around us and how we need to see our impact reach far beyond our own borders to make a difference.”
Can you give an example of something you do or see differently after enrolling on the MBA?
“What the MBA has done for me is add another dimension to my personal and business decisions. It has helped me understand the rationale behind what we do and why we do it which helps guide me in a constructive manner as I navigate my days. Possibly the best examples have presented themselves whilst I have been in Cairo. We have collectively built a support site of 200+ support agents in under 5 months and during this time we have had to build this business from scratch with very limited manpower and resources – a real Uber hustle. I remember when we first got to Cairo it was 43 degrees Celsius where we sat in an office with one fan oscillating between 5 of us as we shared two laptop chargers and worked till late into the night every day. The challenges have not only been with the high heat, limited A/C and speed of growth but also due to the numerous challenges which come from working in a foreign country and culture to what you are used to. The MBA really helped me during this time by giving me a holistic view of the business where I was able to build on everything from HR to Strategic Planning as we encountered these challenges daily.”
How do you manage to keep everything going – an intense job, quailty time with family and friends as well as your MBA?
“This job has been more intense than I could have ever imagined and has really tried and tested me more than I could have expected. The challenges have sometimes overwhelmed me and tested my tenacity at the best of times, but somehow I am still standing. This year alone I have travelled to five different countries and have been on a work assignment in Cairo alone for the last five months. My current Cairo assignment was sprung on me 2 weeks before I actually packed my bags and left, showing you the pace at which Uber works. Another fun fact is that, within the first 3 months in Cairo, we worked flat out with only 2 weekends off and only saw the hotel and office. It took me 3 months to even see the pyramids, which are a mere 20km from my offices in Cairo. It has truly been a challenge to keep my studies going and I have to be diligent about getting them out the way in the mornings as you never know what the day may bring.”
What does an average day look like for Matthew?
“My day consists of me getting up to study from 6am – 8:30am every morning. I then leave for the office and work from 9am till between 7pm or 9pm depending on the work load. Once I am done with work, I generally need some time to clear my head and try get to gym between 10pm and 11pm. I find exercise really helps me keep a focused mind and helps me keep my energy levels up. I try to see my family as often as I can but it’s not easy due to the work schedule we have, which is not always easy for me or them. I am currently single which is probably a result of the life I am currently living, but I do hope to find someone one day who will understand and be a part of this crazy whirlwind with me. Until then, I am just going to keep on going in an effort to achieve the personal and collective goals I have set myself.”
What would be the ultimate next step for you, career wise?
“The ultimate career step for me would be to one day do something on my own with my close friends and impact the people around me. The impact would need to be positive, whether it be on a grandiose scale or in the small every day interactions of normal life. There is a quote by Robin Sharma which I love and sums up what I want out of life perfectly – “In the end, all that will matter is who you became and how many you helped”.
What would be your advice to people about to start their MBA?
“The best advice would be to take every day as it comes. Don’t look at how much you have to do in the course’s entirety but look at the small steps you need to take every day which will eventually get you there. Lastly, enjoy your MBA and the people you meet as it is an opportunity and experience that not many are lucky enough to experience.”
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