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Network Capital and the New CEO of Lyft, David Risher: The Art of Career Transitions
Transitioning from the development sector to leading a multi-billion dollar conglomerate
David Risher has just been named the CEO of Lyft. In this newsletter, we will learn about his association with Network Capital and get a glimpse into his career.
I first met David Risher at the World Economic Forum Annual Summit Davos in 2017. He and I were at a roundtable hosted by Microsoft President Jean Philippe Courtois. David was there to talk about his technology non-profit Worldreader that empowers children to read at least 25 books a year with understanding. We discussed a wide range of topics, including but limited to the application of artificial intelligence to augment learning among disadvantaged kids, taking internet to the last mile and building a technology stack that can be scaled around the world.
As luck would have it, Bhanu Potta, one of Network Capital’s patrons worked closely with David. He connected us and helped host a fascinating discussion on technology for social good when David visited Delhi. That’s how we started collaborating on a range of topics of mutual interest.
Last year, we hosted him and his wife Jennifer to share their career trajectories and philanthropic initiatives. In response to COVID, Jennifer and David launched the #HalfMyDAF challenge, which inspired over $8.6 million in charitable giving.
We have been taught for long that great careers follow a script - engineering, MBA, consulting, investing and so forth. While it may have worked for some people back in the day, the world of work is changing.
Take David as an example. Before starting his non-profit, Risher served as an executive at Microsoft Corporation, and was Senior Vice President of US Retail at Amazon.com from 1997 to 2002.
David’s Career Trajectory (Studying comparative literature → Microsoft → Amazon → WorldReader (14 years) → Lyft CEO
At Microsoft, Risher was General Manager in charge of launching the company’s first database product, Access. He went on to found and manage Microsoft Investor.
In 1997, he left Microsoft to join Amazon.com as Vice President of Product and Store development. He later served as the company’s Senior Vice President, US Retail, overseeing the marketing and general management of Amazon’s retail operations and growing the company to over $4 Billion in annual sales.
After leaving Amazon in 2002, Risher taught at the University of Washington’s Foster Business School, where he created the University’s course on “Competing on the Internet.” He was elected Professor of the Year in 2004.
Risher founded Worldreader after a year-long trip around the world with his family, home-schooling his daughters and volunteering at a school in China. After visiting an orphanage in Ecuador, Risher saw how e-reader technology could give kids in remote and under-served parts of the world access to books and that lead to him and Colin McElwee founding Worldreader in November 2009.
In March, 2023, Risher is taking charge of Lyft as the CEO. Lyft is a multi-billion dollar ride hailing company that has a lot going for it but it also needs to address strategic business challenges. Risher is among the best people in the industry to take it to the next level.
Lessons from David Risher’s Career
Linear careers are hyped. Plans often don’t work but planning helps. One should keep an eye on solving difficult problems, learning from peers and keeping an open mind about possibilities. In this era of unknown, unknowns, one constantly needs to iterate. Things are likely to change and being married to a linear idea of work can backfire.
Learn across disciplines. Magic happens at intersections.
Expand your network but keep in touch with people. David was closely connected with leaders and Microsoft and Amazon years after he left. He has the knack of adding value to others consistently. This makes his network compound over time.
Work with people who inspire you. At Amazon, David worked with Jeff Bezos, at Microsoft with Bill Gates. You are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with. Choose where you work and more importantly who you work with carefully. Even if you don’t have the immediate opportunity to work with a top executive, cultivate a strong peer group. Many of them will do interesting things and nudge you to do the same.
Expand your luck surface area. Do great things and tell lots of people. That’s how new opportunities come to you. Read this case study published by Harvard Business School on Worldreader
Take the job your are doing as the most important job to be done. Your future opportunities depend on how well you do your present job. If you feel you are at the wrong place, it is time to look for your next gig. Half hearted attempts lead to half hearted outcomes. No mystery there.
Choose your life partner carefully. It is perhaps the most important decision you will take. Give it thought and consideration. David and Jennifer aren’t just a power couple. They have supported and nurtured each other over the years. Their success today is a result of being there for each other.
Give. Generosity is power.
Join us in congratulating David for this remarkable achievement. We look forward to hosting him again. Stay tuned for that. Hopefully soon.
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