After four years at the helm of Uber’s operations across Northern Europe, Jo Bertram is moving on. As she works through her transition period, Jo, often referred to as ‘The Number One Woman in Tech’, reflects on joining what was then a little known car app, overseeing a fast-paced growth strategy and the challenges that come with being the public face of a global brand.
Jo holds an MBA from INSEAD and a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge. An avid traveller, Jo has lived in South Africa and Australia where she became a qualified private pilot. Her ambition moving forward is to carrying on ‘building businesses that have a positive, tangible and short-term impact on its customers.’
Congratulations on making the shortlist, how did it feel?
Thank you very much, it was a real surprise and I feel honoured to have been included.
Can you tell us a bit about your career & how you came to be the Regional General Manager of Uber Northern Europe?
My career actually began in consulting – when I left university, I didn’t know much about the world of business or what I wanted to do, and thought consulting would give me a good breadth of experience. I worked for both Accenture and McKinsey, where I worked on projects across a range of industries and topics, but more recently focused on strategy and growth. After about nine years in consulting, I then made the leap to Uber after a friend sent me the LinkedIn advert. I was based in South Africa at the time and looking for a move back to London, things fell into place from there. I didn’t ever predict I would end up at Uber and never had a fully-fledged career plan; I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in that respect.
In terms of my ultimate goal, I want to carry on building businesses that have a positive, tangible and immediate impact on its customers. Over three million Londoners use the Uber app to get around and it’s been incredible to see the business come so far in just four years.
I want to carry on building businesses that have a positive, tangible and immediate impact on its customers. Over three million Londoners use the Uber app and it’s been incredible to see the business come so far in just four years.
Did you imagine Uber having such a global reach when you joined over four years ago?
I think it is the simplicity and convenience which has made Uber the success it is today. It answers a genuine consumer need for safe and reliable transport at the tap of a button and we are constantly looking at ways we can make the service better for both drivers and riders.
I had no clue we would have grown so quickly when I joined – I’m not sure anyone did! I think we have gone through the same changes and growing pains that many companies go through but at an extremely accelerated speed which means we are learning as we go. It’s been a really interesting experience.
What are the highlights in your own career and why?
I guess the main highlight in my career would have to be looking back at the Uber business we have built in the UK over the past four years. We have gone from the team of three employees that I joined to over two hundred, and millions of people in 40 towns and cities across the UK rely on us to get from A to B and we provide over 40,000 drivers with access to flexible work on their own terms. The pace at Uber is so fast and we are so focussed on thinking about what lies ahead that I think we sometimes take for granted what we have achieved.
A personal highlight for me also has to be the initiatives we have introduced for our partner-drivers. We spent a lot of time listening to their feedback and finding out how we can improve and through the course of this year have implemented a lot of these – from tipping in app, to accident and sickness cover, to free English language tuition, to better queuing systems at airports and much in between. Though there’s always more to be done, we’ve taken big strides for a young company.
Tell us about your childhood, you were brought up in London Zoo – any child’s dream!
My father worked at London Zoo as the curator of mammals so in my early years our address was Flat 1, London Zoo. I have some amazing memories of feeding baby animals after hours and feel very lucky to have had such a childhood.
Growing up I wanted to be a teacher. However I soon realised I am the ultimate generalist and could never decide on one single topic that I wanted to focus on. I went on to Cambridge to study natural sciences – again, it was the broadest degree I could find!
The pace at Uber is so fast and we are so focussed on thinking about what lies ahead that I think we sometimes take for granted what we have achieved.
As a senior woman within your profession, what advice would you give to other women looking to progress in a similar field?
Don’t be too worried about having a plan if that doesn’t come naturally to you – I’ve always sought out opportunities that interested me. When I graduated, Uber didn’t even exist and when hearing about the job was the first time I’d even heard of the company. Few people would have thought that an app could have quite the impact it did have. What is important is to enjoy and be challenged by what you do – we spend so much of our time at work that you should love it, and you’ll do best when you’re doing something you enjoy.
A colleague at Uber has a great way of thinking about your career path; you should think about it like climbing a mountain, rather than climbing a ladder one rung at a time. You may have to go sideways to find the best route up, you may go down a little in order to go up, you may shoot up some sections but then it will be slow progress elsewhere. But those who do reach the top of the ladder will always look back down and be proud of how far they’ve climbed!
Not that many people can say they have a pilot’s license! How often do you fly now you’ve moved back to London from South Africa?
Sadly after having my license for six years and flying in four different countries, the combination of British bad weather and lack of time has meant my license has lapsed for the time being. I will get it back one day I am sure!
Best pieces of career advice you’ve received?
I was once told to only do things you enjoy and that makes you happy, it will bring out the best in you and you will progress far quicker. Never do anything for the sake of your CV or because other people think you should do it.
Don’t be too worried about having a plan if that doesn’t come naturally to you. What is important is to enjoy and be challenged by what you do – we spend so much of our time at work that you should love it, and you’ll do best when you’re doing something you enjoy.
How do you like to wind-down in your free time?
I really love to travel, I find this allows me to switch off completely from my job when I need to. I also love catching up with friends and family and enjoying what London has to offer now I am back here. Where possible I try to properly disconnect at weekends, so staying away from my smartphone and emails (to the extent possible) is important to me.
What do you wear to work and how important is dressing for work to you?
I like to be comfortable at work. I tend to wear jeans, flats and a top or shirt if I have no external meetings but have some staple dresses and jackets if I need to dress things up.
Lastly, which items from The Fold do you have your eye on and why?
The Arlington dress caught my eye immediately along with a red scarf, I like my clothes relatively simple without too much fuss and I think it is beautifully classic.
Think about your career path like climbing a mountain, rather than a ladder, one rung at a time. You may have to go sideways to find the best route up, you may go down a little in order to go up, you may shoot up some sections but then it will be slow progress elsewhere.
Three ways we could be more productive today?
Brutal prioritisation, don’t multi-task and take time to switch off and properly disconnect so you can bring your best self to work.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. From a business perspective, I recently read How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb which was incredibly useful in a practical context.
Job satisfaction is…
Not having that Sunday night feeling, looking forward to going into work and being proud of what you have achieved.
Who inspires you?
The team at Uber – I’ve been continually blown away by their passion for Uber’s mission, and persistence through challenges.
Why do we need women at the top?
Diversity is key for any company. Leadership needs to reflect the society that we live in today.
London top five?
The Fold Sessions: Episode 4. Jo Bertram – The Number 1 Woman in Tech
In this session you’ll hear how Jo Bertram, the Regional General Manager of Uber Technology Northern Europe, took a company ‘no-one had heard of’ global. The highs and lows of being the public ‘face of Uber’ and growing up in London Zoo.
“Leadership needs to reflect the society that we live in today”