Safa Alkateb used to pride himself on knowing the name of all the staff at his software company Autocab.

Autocab is the world’s number one taxi dispatch software provider and is on a mission to help local private hire and taxi operators transform their businesses.

It was acquired by Uber in 2020 and recently announced it plans to create 200 new jobs after taking 20,000 sq ft on a 10-year lease at Bruntwood SciTech’s Manchester development.

The move followed a 400% rise in revenues over the last five years.

Alkateb took part in TechBlast’s latest Going 4 Growth roundtable and says he’s had to change his leadership stye to reflect the growth in the company.

“Obviously we’re trying to grow very fast, especially after the acquisition by Uber,” he says. “Growth isn’t really easy. I would say it’s really hard to process.

“We’re going from about 140 people to about 300 people and the first thing that you realise is many things as a CEO and management team start to be beyond your horizon.

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“When you’re 100 people, you can kind of see everything that’s going on in your business. But once you go beyond that, then you’ll find out that things are happening in your business that you don’t know about.

“You don’t know they’re happening so therefore you can’t even manage it. From our experience and what we’re going through, I can tell you a couple of things have to happen.

“One is that you have to become much less of a networked business.  Networked means everyone knows everyone and everyone knows what’s happening and everyone communicates informally.

“And you have to go to a more process-orientated kind of business to facilitate that kind of growth. That’s number one.”

Alkateb says as businesses grow there’s less room for ‘gut feel’ in management in favour of taking more ‘data-driven’ decisions.

“The third element is around culture and people,” he adds.  “As you have new people coming into the business you really have to invest in creating a strong culture, with strong people development and processes.

“That means everyone in the business must feel they’ve got a future in the business and know exactly what’s next for them.”

According to Alkateb he says he noticed the dynamic of Autocab changed when it went beyond 100-120 staff.

“If it goes beyond that and you’re not making these transformations, I think you’re really are too late and losing efficiency,” he says.

“We had to add a whole new senior management team and basically allow them to run the day-to-day business while the team steps up on strategy and so on.”

Alkateb says as a business grows it’s impossible to know everyone’s name.

“I can’t know everyone’s surname and what everyone is doing outside of work,” he admits.

“Your job as a CEO has to transition from you doing that to then making sure the next layer of management is doing that. At the end of the day, it’s just that people want to feel that the management of the company know who they are, appreciate them and basically are working with them on their personal journey.

“You have to transition from me doing that to me helping somebody else do and that becomes kind of your transition.”

The CEO recommended creating listening groups to better understand what’s happening in your business.

We actively contracted with an external company to come in and facilitate listening groups within the business and did like three or four different surveys to really get to understand where people are and how they’re thinking about the change,” he says.  “It can’t be you evaluating everyone anymore.”

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