Born in India and schooled in the Middle East, when Amar Virk arrived in New Zealand at 16 it was straight to University to study electrical engineering. His career plans were already firmly mapped out; or so he thought.
As is so often the case, when you explore subjects outside your principal area of study, those plans can quickly change.
Deciding to take some business papers in his third year Amar quickly became hooked on a class simulation called ‘MikesBikes’ – a game run by Prof. Darl Kolb at the Business School where students were divided into teams and the companies they created were valued on a weekly basis using a series of performance metrics. Those valuations in turn were turned into a fictitious stock market and students could see how their efforts materially impacted the valuations of their businesses.
“What I came to realise is that engineering is one thing but there’s a whole universe that supports it. I came to appreciate how wonderfully complex a business really is. We could always invest more in R&D and make a better bike (which is how the engineer in me wanted to think) but that wasn’t enough. The bike had to be priced correctly, manufactured at scale, marketed correctly and only have a limited pool of capital to deploy against all of the above.”
Graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering in 2008, his experience at the Business School was instrumental in deciding to enrol in an MBA at Cornell University.
After time working on private equity deals with Parthenon-EY and a few years with start-up Symphony Commerce, an opportunity presented itself in 2016 to work for UberEats, the new go to delivery platform that has become popular worldwide.
Attracted by the promise of being involved in scaling a business very quickly, he admits to being thrown in the deep end requiring rapid decision making in an environment where there were few processes in place.
Amar admits it was a steep learning curve to begin with but also a valuable lesson in adapting to a very dynamic business model.
“I’ve never before worked for a company that was growing so fast. The challenge I faced was getting an enormous amount of work done with very few people. I quickly learnt to operate really lean and be very frugal but I have to say I love every minute of it.”
Recalling the words of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who famously said: “I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top but you should get pretty near” Amar says he has his own take on the Iron Lady’s motivational line.
“There is simply no substitute for hard work and perseverance. I can look back at many instances in my life where I didn’t give the task at hand my full effort and it resulted in a disappointing outcome for me. Consequently, I can also vividly recall instances where I gave something everything I had and not only was I rewarded for it, but I also felt a deep sense of satisfaction from a job well done.
I’ll be the first to admit that delivering your best at every turn is difficult, and even exhausting, but that is what appears to differentiate successful folks from the unsuccessful ones.” And how does his time studying engineering help him in his current role?
“Engineering taught me how to make clear, concise and rational decisions using a structured thought process. This mental model has stayed with me ever since and I apply it every day.”