Sarah-Marie Martin, VP of Corporate Development and Capital Markets at Uber, has a quote that she keeps on her desk that reads: “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that’s going to help you grow.”
Martin got into investment banking after her boss at a summer college internship at the U.S. Department of Commerce told her that he thought she’d make a great investment banker because she worked well under pressure. So, after graduation, she went to work for Credit Suisse — and stayed for 20 years. Her next stop was as a partner at Goldman Sachs in New York City, what some might say is the dream job on Wall Street.
But Martin started to “get the itch” to do something different and made the choice to join organic children’s food startup, Yumi, as their first CFO. She was drawn both to the mission of delivering delicious health food to working parents (Martin is the mother of five children) and to the fact that it is a woman-founded business, because for most of her banking career, Martin says she was often the only woman in the room.
Martin says that Yumi was a great growth experience for her because like many startups, you’re building the plane while you’re flying it. For Martin, it was “…highly empowering, definitely scary. I was so used to doing things a certain way and having the opportunity to do it in an entirely different way was mind blowing.” The experience, she says, also prepared her for her next stop: Uber.
“Uber is established and has some of the infrastructure you’d find at a large firm, but it’s also sort of building the airplane while it’s flying,” Martin says. “We’re a big public company but even though Uber is 12 years old, we’re still in the early days of institutionalization and processes and procedures.”
Martin said she focuses on four main things in her role at Uber. The first is managing her team, who are the ones she says, “make the magic happen.” The second is managing triage — “the fire that has to be put out immediately.”
Her third focus is the quarterly process for investor relations. “This is a lot of work but going into it you know what the schedule will be so you can manage it,” she says. And her fourth focus is managing timely projects that have a deadline. “There’s structure but it ends up also being a little more spontaneous,” she says.
According to Martin, Uber’s high-level goal is to provide a connection to every source of transportation in the world. “That’s a very broad thing to say, but the scale of the business is mind-blowing,” she says. “In the fourth quarter of 2022, we had 5.4 million earners in 70 different countries and 131 million active platform consumers. There are approximately one million Uber transactions every hour, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of our growth strategy.”
Martin says that the existing core businesses — which is UberX and restaurant food delivery — are big growth drivers. “We’re also focused on new verticals, which could be anything from a reserve ride to a share ride to in certain countries,” she says. “There are two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and in our delivery business, our new verticals would be things like grocery or alcohol delivery. Really, what we are focused on doing is balancing growth with profitability and making sure we’re optimizing that portfolio of business.”
Uber’s employee base is relatively young and heavily Gen Z, which expects diversity and challenges the status quo. “No one here is pushing back on ‘should we be diverse,’” she says. “What we’re struggling with is the how. For example, it’s hard to find female engineers. But we’re embracing of these challenges.”
If you were wondering, Martin says it’s true that Uber’s corporate employees are strongly encouraged to spend some time driving or delivering for the company. “Our CEO drives a lot and so do other senior leaders,” she says. “As a company we’re very focused on improving the earner experience so as corporate employees we need to know first-hand what it’s like.”
By the way, Martin makes deliveries for Uber Eats but doesn’t drive passengers around. “As a mom with five kids, my car is always a mess!” she says.
So how does Martin balance such a demanding career with the challenges of raising five children? “For starters, I’m totally comfortable with chaos,” she says. “And even though I have a Type A personality, I’m good at not sweating the small stuff.”
Martin says that in all areas of life, you have to set priorities and decide what you can do yourself and what you need help with. “When they say it takes a village, they’re not kidding,” she says. “I have great people on my team, including of course my husband Nick, who helps me juggle and prioritize things. Sometimes I can be hard on myself if I’m not meeting my ‘mom objectives,’ but I try to remember to take deep breaths and focus on the things I do well both as a parent and in my job.”
There’s no question that Uber is in the right hands with Sarah-Marie Martin. Her unique experience, diverse career and incredible team are a powerful mix to help lead Uber as it continues to expand.
Learn more about Sarah-Marie Martin’s move from Wall Street to Uber, and what she sees in the company’s future. Listen to the full interview.