I was in London recently with my fifteen-year old son Laith. I decided to take him on a special trip to London to see a Chelsea Football Club match. We used all the main means of transportation London has to offer; walking, black cabs, double decker buses, the London Underground and of course Uber.
As an endlessly curious person I make a point of having a conversation with Uber drivers and asking them some questions. I want to know more about their lives, but I’m also curious about what it’s like working for a company that is so controversial and has become the business world’s poster child for disruption.
I have to admit at first glance our driver did not look impressive at all. He was dressed in an ultra-casual manner and wore a beanie cap. I asked him the question I usually start most conversations with, which is “where are you from?”
“From Nigeria,” he replied.
“How long have you been living in the UK?” I asked.
“Oh, for thirty-five years!”
“You’re not from Nigeria anymore, you’re a Londoner!” was my reply. He laughed and said I was right. I then asked him how long he’s been driving for Uber. He told me that he’s been driving for Uber for two years, but that he was only doing this part-time.
“What’s your other job?” I asked. “I’m a policeman,” he replied. I have to admit; of all the possible answers I did not expect him to tell me he was a cop!
We ended up having a fascinating conversation. It turns out my new friend Henry is a detective. He has an undergraduate degree in Economics and a master’s degree in Law and Economics and has been a cop for 17 years.
When I asked him about his work he told me that the Metropolitan Police (or the “Met” as it’s known locally) is undergoing a massive transformation. The government is reducing the Met’s budget from £4 billion down to £3 billion, and he’s part of the team that is working on reforming the organisation. They are working with a “Big Four” auditing and consulting firm.
He reports directly to the commissioner and is pretty excited about the project. I asked him if this was a good opportunity to innovate and make big changes and he enthusiastically confirmed that it was. They are innovating on everything, from recruitment to training to the distribution of the police stations.
Though he was excited about the project, he was also frustrated with the budget cuts. He told me that many police officers are leaving the force as their wages have been going down in real terms for more than a decade. He drives for Uber part-time to earn a little extra money. He also lives outside of London where it’s cheaper to live (he solves most of his cases on the train ride home.)
“With the number of police officers going down, what are the crime numbers looking like?” I asked.
He told me that this was an interesting question; the street crime rate was going down, but overall crime was increasing with most of it being online.
When I asked him what his future plans were Henry told me that he plans to help his home country of Nigeria from a law perspective, utilising his education as a lawyer.
I really enjoyed by conversation with Henry… next time you’re in an Uber start a conversation with the driver. You never know what you might learn.
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