October 10, 2020
photos Ed Simon of Studio 100
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Brian Cu embarks on a different path after paving the road for Grab Philippines’ success.

Brian Cu is happy to spend more time at home with his family. While he misses going to the gym or traveling, he says that nothing beats being able to have some peace of mind with loved ones. “I’m usually out four or five nights a week,” the former Country Head of Grab Philippines admits. “Now, I’m happy to eat more meals at home, see the kids, and bond with my family more.”

While the businessman has stepped down from his former role, his entrepreneurial spirit is still as alive as ever. “I’m going back to my roots in building businesses. I feel like I have two more start-up ideas in my mind that I want to get out. I’ve always enjoyed building businesses more than managing them. After growing a company, I’d then pass the reins to trusted colleagues who can run the day-to-day operations better.” Brian’s professional record confirms this: between mid-2010 and mid-2013, he co-founded Go-Jek, a transportation app in Indonesia, and online fashion shopping app Zalora. However, it was at Grab where he stayed the longest, building and driving the company toward its exponential growth over the past seven years.

Community Action

Brian was still at the helm of Grab when the pandemic struck the Philippines. The unprecedented events tested their true mettle—after all, the transport industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors when the lockdown was imposed. “We’re all still figuring out how to adapt to the
‘new normal.’ To be honest, I’d say that anyone who says that they’ve adjusted well to these conditions is lying. Shifts and changes happen every day, and all you can do is to be agile and prepared for anything that comes your way. You must have back-up plans for your contingency plans.”

As a digital company, Grab was able to gradually ease in some of its operations into the new work set-up. “We had to shift certain roles and learn new ways of working quickly. The first month was okay; however, the anxiety started to hit hard in the second and third months. We also had to go through a round of layoffs, so that just added to the stress. We had to conduct regular town halls to keep everyone in check and in the loop. We created trivia nights for Grabbers and bingo nights for our drivers, just to keep them engaged. Our online events kept that cultural glue intact, so to speak.”

Finding the Balance

“As the pandemic progressed, we studied the state of transportation in different markets and planned for situations that could happen here in the Philippines, but these didn’t push through either,” Brian recalls. “One of the plans we had in the works was GrabCar Health for our frontline workers who couldn’t get a ride on the way to work. We were already in talks with the powers that be about opening up Grab, and we would have taken care of the operational costs. We had around 200 cars prepared already, but they couldn’t resolve how the program can be implemented, so the plan did not push through. I wish we would have been able to provide this service.”

With their drivers’ livelihoods in mind, Brian and the team had to be quick with their adjustments. “Nothing can prepare you for this kind of situation. I guess we were lucky that we took on a multi-vertical approach last year,” he explains, talking about GrabFood, the top meal delivery provider coming into the lockdown. “The service helped us keep some of our users in the app and get the company running somehow.”

Read the full story written by Gelo Dionora in Lifestyle Asia’s September 2020 issue titled, “Have Courage.”

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