Mudassir Sheikha is part of a new style of CEO making waves in the Middle East. As co-founder of ride-hailing business Careem, the Stanford-educated entrepreneur puts a social mission – to simplify and improve the lives of people in the region – at the heart of his business.
Key to this is Careem’s own people. Every employee, whether a driver (called a captain), call centre operator or developer, receives shares in the business. Captains are given health insurance, secondments to other departments, and even informal internships for their children. The name of the business represents this aim, being a play on the Arabic world ‘kareem’, which means ‘generous’.
“Fundamental to our business is the need to make our captains’ lives better. Most of them come from Pakistan – where I’m from – and their lives in Dubai are challenging. They work 15-hour days, share rooms in multiple shifts and 90% of their money goes back home to feed their families,” says Sheikha.
“Not only are their lives challenging from a financial aspect, they don’t get much respect in society. This is why we started calling them captains instead of drivers. We want them to be aware of the importance of their role, just like the captain of a plane or a ship. It’s important for business and for our mission,” he adds.
The business side is going well for Careem. Created by Sheikha and co-founder Magnus Olsson in 2012, the ride-booking service has more than 4 million registered users and 90,000 captains across 47 cities. In December 2016, state-owned Saudi Telecom Company announced it was purchasing a 10% stake in Careem for $100m – valuing the organisation at $1bn.