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Leadership at Scale: Amir Abou Baker, Head of Global Markets @ WhatsApp

Last updated on June 10, 2019

In this episode, Hugo welcomes Amir Abou Baker, an American Lebanese-Puerto Rican Industrial Engineer with a masters in Engineering Management and Business Strategy working at WhatsApp Inc., as the Head of Global Markets. He is a technology and operations executive with skills in retail, operational transformations and scaling strategy for global operations that has travelled a lot and worked and led teams overseas. Amir shares his exceptional labour journey at Accenture, GE, Google, Oscar Insurance, TaskRabbit and Whatsapp, transitioning from one to another into different fields. Tune in as they talk about his reason for this transitioning from one field to another, the GE’s OMLP rotational program Amir went through to build leadership and functional skills and focus on operations in Media & Entertainment for NBCUniversal where his first project was managing Highlights at the Beijing Olympics Highlights Factory, his operation management and retail skills at Google, his member services at Oscar Insurance, directing Global Operations at TaskRabbit and what they are, and his role at Whatsapp.

Show notes:

  • 01:15 – Welcoming Amir
  • 01:26 – About Amir
  • 02:16 – Why Industrial Engineering
  • 02:57 – “Engineers make things, industrial engineers make things better” Operation mentality leading into personal life
  • 05:35 – About GE and why operations
  • 07:12 – Work at NBCUniversal – First project Highlights at the Beijing Olympics Highlights Factory
SETTING A PROCESS FOR HIGHLIGHT CLIPS AT BEIJING OLYMPICS Universal has between 2 and 5 OMLPs, so the projects they worked on were the most strategic in the company. Amir’s first project was the Beijing Olympics managing the highlights factory, where he would get a request from the director, give it to the shot pickers that would put together and edit highlight clips, and then ship them off to the different work stream. The Olympics lasted 16 days and on the first day they set a process of seven steps to cut a clip and get it to the profit partner. They started making daily improvements, and the process evolved taking every day less time to develop a clip. First day they took 1 hour, and by the end of day 14, it took them only 20 minutes to get a request, cut a clip and get it to the profit partner
  • 09:37 – Feeling about making decisions on highlights
  • 10:22 – GE’s OMLP Rotation program – Process to ramp-up quickly
  • 12:09 – Same process for Google and WhatsApp?
  • 13:04 – When leading, meeting every single team member across different geographies?
  • 15:26 – Transition between industries – From GE to Google
TRANSITION FROM ENTERTAINMENT TO TECH, A NEW FRONTIER While  finishing GE rotational program and being the manager of strategy and operations at Universal Studios Sound Department in Los Angeles, everybody was starting to talk about a fast growing Google in Bay Area of San Francisco. Went online and randomly applied for a job in strategy operations in Google with success. A new frontier in Tech.
  • 16:51 – Work at Google
  • 20:30 – Amir’s management style
  • 24:22 – From entertainment industry to Tech, and now insurance. Why?
  • 27:03 – About TaskRabbit and how he got there
  • 28:37 – Meaning of Global operations
  • 29:49 – Stories from TaskRabbit
  • 32:46 – About his role at WhatsApp and getting there
GETTING TO WHATSAPP AND A NEW ROLE Missing the scaling and operating level at Google, Amir was reached out by Facebook and started having interviews. In the meantime, a job popped up online at Whatsapp that fitted his background. He spoke to the team, started the interview process and got the job as Head of Markets for Whatsapp, a growing team that is made up to support all of the local markets and deep market insights
  • 35:42 – Size of team
  • 36:21 – Opportunity for somebody who wants to start working in Operations
HOW TO HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK IN OPERATIONS Operations depends on the interest of a person and has a different meaning in different fields. About having a process, setting it up and going through it. A mindset of being an engineer that can be applied to a lot of different areas within operations. “Have a hard look at your skill set, take stock, go for the operation you like and specialize”
  • 42:18 – Amir’s last words to Latinos in Technology

Key Takeaways:

  • Before coming into a new project that is not familiar, read and look for resources around with people you work with, and on the web
  • “Learning by doing and being on the sharp floor” “Observing and learning first hand”
  • The more the magnitude in decisions, the more time it takes to ramp-up
  • Always take time to put thoughts together before making recommendations or changes
  • A leader should make everyone be included and heard
  • View points will change overtime, so the more you talk to people, the more you will see these processes unfold
  • When working with teams communication and collaboration are tools that help keep people engaged
  • Rigorous process improvement day by day can reach effective results
  • Set up goals at the beginning to work aligned
  • Set clear expectations and let the team role with the projects
  • When leading understand people on a personal level and do one on one checkpoints
  • Have a look at skill set and then see what is open when seeing into operations
  • Speaking up and having conversations with managers when moving on
  • Stay focussed and learn to say no
  • As latinos, always stay involved and engaged

Mentioned resources:

  • OMLP – Operations Management Leadership Program at GE

Connect with him via linkedin:

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Who is Hugo Castellanos? Find out about him on linkedinThanks so much for listening to the show! If you want to know more about this or comment on the show, please join us on LatinosWhoTech or go to Conexiones

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