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Uber's Aki Taha

15 minutes with Uber’s Aki Taha

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Car service app Uber has been making waves globally with its disruptive business model.

As the business continues to grow worldwide, we catch up with the company’s head of recruiting for Asia, Aki Taha, about his journey within HR, where he sees the function in five years, and his favourite Sheryl Sandberg quote.

What was your first HR job, and why did you choose HR as a profession?

I interned in HR as an undergrad for Ford Motor Company in Beijing. I had to find an internship as part of the study abroad programme I was doing there, and Ford and HR were it. The next summer I did another internship in HR at J.P. Morgan, and I haven’t really looked back.

I think the mix of softer people challenges, and harder analytical ones that HR calls for, always appealed to me. As did the idea of being able to really impact a business or team, and getting to impact the experience people have as part of that team.

How do you think the HR function will evolve in the next five years?

That probably depends on the industry we’re talking about, and where HR stands now within that industry. I’ve always worked for software companies, in part because it seemed to me that in the absence of a physical product to manufacture and ship, software companies often place high value on finding and keeping great people. So I think we’re starting from a decently healthy point.

That said, I think that data – the ease with which it’s being collected, the insights it brings, the stories it will allow us to tell – will really transform our function. It will affect what we do, how we do it, and how that work is perceived, inside and outside of the company we work for.

What do you think can be done better within HR?

I think we continue to suffer from a bit of a branding problem. That most people don’t understand what HR involves, how important it is and how challenging and rewarding the work is. And I think it’s up to us, within the function, to solve that by sharing what it is we get to work on, and then using that to go out and attract stellar people into the function.

Which HR function do you like best and why?

I’m pretty passionate about recruiting, but I also have a real soft spot for compensation. I love that comp is scientific on the one hand, and emotional on the other; that you can come to an objective “answer”, but still need to finesse that answer using more subjective factors.

What is the best career advice you have received?

“Go where the growth is”, which is something Sheryl Sandberg used to say all the time – I think she still does – when she was at Google.

Can you describe a regular workday at Uber?

It’s fast, everything is urgent. It’s a mix of needing to be in the weeds and get things done, while constantly forcing myself to think and act more strategically. I really think that’s the need here, regardless of your title, regardless of your function.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The challenges I face, the impact I get to have, the people around me, who stretch me to the hilt. Our business is growing fast, which means our recruiting organisation needs to hire just as fast – without compromising the bar to which we hire, and without messing up the culture that got us here.

The effort is global, the pace is fast, the business is demanding, and it’s hard work. But it’s an awesome challenge, and it feels great that our team gets to play such a key role in our growth and success.

I can’t work without… Spotify. Even people people need to tune out from time to time.

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