Uber’s new Asia chief wants to work with governments and taxi firms not against them

Uber’s new Asia chief wants to work with governments and taxi firms not against them

New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been vocal in pledging to reform Uber’s toxic culture to take the business to the next level — and ultimately an IPO — but, over in Asia, another recent arrival is presiding over a revamped approach which includes turning those who were once enemies into friends.

Brooks Entwistle, a former Chairman of Goldman Sachs Southeast Asia, joined the firm in August to lead its business in Asia Pacific, minus China — where it sold to rival Didi — and India, where the firm is run by a dedicated country president.

At the time of his arrival I joked that Entwistle, who has lived across Asia for over two decades, may need to dip into his experience of scaling Mount Everest such is the challenge of handling Uber’s business in Asia. This year alone, it has been rocked by scandals that include using unsafe cars in Singapore, bribery allegations in at least five countries, not to mention ongoing skirmishes with regulators in countries that include Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia.

Then there’s the competition.

Singapore-based rival Grab seems to have taken the lead regionally, and it recently refueled with $2 billion in fresh capital. In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, local firm Go-Jek leads and it has raised more than $1 billion with support from Chinese giant Tencent.

Uber seems a little off the pace in Southeast Asia, a region of over 600 million consumers where the ride-sharing economy is tipped to grow five-fold to reach $13.1 billion and 29 million customers over the next decade.

Grab recently celebrated crossing one billion rides and it claims over 60 million users and 1.8 million drivers. Uber told TechCrunch that it doesn’t provide regional data, but it did share that Asia Pacific as a whole represents over 20 percent of its global trip volume. The region, Uber added, has nearly 629,000 active drivers, which it said is over 25 percent of its global driver network. Uber crossed five million rides worldwide at the end of June 2017.

Beyond the numbers, Go-Jek and Grab have expanded their services beyond cars — moving into areas like mobile payments to grow engagement and even bike-sharing — and invested heavily in local R&D and developer talent to build platforms that are more significant than merely hailing a ride.

Uber hasn’t followed suit, but the competition — while never named directly — appears to have been watched. Indeed, if Entwistle has his way, the U.S. firm will modernize its business accordingly, too, and branch out into new areas it would likely never have considered in order to remain competitive and relevant.