In Conversation with our CEO, Lydia Paterson
We are very pleased to congratulate Lydia Paterson who has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer, OLX. After working as Group CFO at OLX for the past seven years, Lydia was appointed as company CEO as of 1 March 2023, reporting to Prosus CEO Bob van Dijk.
Lydia has over 25 years’ experience in leadership roles at global consumer internet and online marketplace businesses, including eBay and PayPal. In addition to her role as OLX CEO, Lydia currently serves as a Board Director of OLX Brasil, OfferUp and Udemy which is publicly traded on the NASDAQ.
We took the opportunity to ask Lydia a few questions and get to know her more.
Q: In your seven years of OLX, what has impressed you the most?
Let’s say what has impressed me most “so far” because every year the bar seems to rise. For me, what’s been consistently impressive is the adaptability of the company and our entire ecosystem to change. I remember my first month on the job, we had a team offsite and made a major strategic decision over a 48 hour period. I remember thinking “Wow, this feels fast” as I was coming from more structured corporations where major strategic decisions took 12 months of consensus building, at which point it was often too late. So, I found us fast seven years ago, but in retrospect, the speed of change has accelerated even more since then. Change comes at us every day. I’m impressed with our culture of adaptation, agility, and dealing with ambiguity. This is what defines us. We don’t always get it right, but I love that we don’t shy away from change when it comes at us.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced at OLX?
Two challenges stand out. One is complexity when it comes to decision making. We have operated in a matrix – where organisational structures exist within Business Units, sometimes countries, and generally functions. It means almost everyone has two bosses, or at least accountability in two directions. This makes decision-making complex as decisions cannot be made in a vacuum where they don’t impact others. Sometimes this slows us down, and other times we make a good decision for one dimension which involves trade-offs that are not ideal for the other.
The second challenge is bringing the customer voice to the table. In part because of the complexity of the matrix, we sometimes get lost in our own worlds and the voice of the customer doesn’t get heard. And since we take advantage of our global scale, sometimes it is hard for our global employees (whether that be in Tech, Finance or HR) who don’t get the daily exposure to our end customers. We’ve gotten a lot better about this over the years, and certain pockets of our company are really good at this. Our European team recently launched “Dogfooding” – an initiative that allows all employees to experience our product from our customers’ perspective, even if they aren’t located in a market where we operate. Now anyone in the company can sign up, buy or sell on our platform, and give us feedback. The intention moving forward is to make these pockets the norm.
Q: What are you most excited about in this next chapter of OLX?
When I’m wearing my CFO hat, I’m excited about the future financial architecture of our company. We will be profitable, cash flow positive, and growing our revenue above our peer benchmark companies. Many of the investments we have made over the past few years, for instance, in our online payment and delivery options for goods in several of our European markets, will become profitable. This will further reinforce our position as a financially sustainable and self-funding business.
As CEO of the company, I’m excited about the role we play, while delivering solid returns to our shareholders, in being able to do more within local communities and with other stakeholders. We are a good employer who offers our people opportunities to grow and develop. Together we’re building a more sustainable world through trade, and we are positive contributors to the circular economy.
But I believe we can do even more for our customers in solving their problems, and bringing further enrichment into the local communities who use our platforms. As a “core classifieds” company, our roots are in a business model where everyone succeeds. Buyers get great deals. Sellers find customers and get paid for their products and services. Communities make economic and social gains. This is good for the environment as products gain second, third and fourth lives. And our company enables this trade through our product offerings, underpinned by safe and efficient platforms, allowing the cycle to evolve and grow.
Q: As CFO you were the company’s champion for DEI and Sustainability. As CEO, how do you intend to solidify these pillars?
It’s true I’ve been active in sponsoring these initiatives. But, we all contribute to building a company with a diverse workforce, an inclusive workplace, and culture where people feel they belong and can perform at their best. And, I expect all of us to contribute to building a more sustainable world through trade. That means building great products and services for our customers, being resourceful with the resources we have (time, budgets), and finding ways to create less carbon emissions as we move toward net-zero.
For the past few years, DEI and Sustainability targets have been part of the CEO’s annual objectives and this will continue for me. We do these things because it makes our company stronger. As a dividend, the investment community expects us to be strong corporate citizens, and will reward our efforts in ESG (environmental, social, governance) by opening us up to external investors and to access capital markets. In short, I hope people realise that these topics are strategic advantages, not social crusades.
Q: What would you tell someone who is starting to work at OLX today?
Fasten your seatbelt. They say the past is the best predictor of the future. We talk about living in a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, change, ambiguity) and every year we seem to increase the levels of each of the VUCA dimensions. Some employees want us to offer assurances about the future. If I had been forced to make predictions a year ago, I would have failed so miserably. So, the answer is: be prepared for change, accept (and thrive in) ambiguity, assume the best intention of others, ask for help, and communicate.
Q: What is one thing about you that people don’t know?
I’m an introvert. I’m told people respond to me being energetic or communicative as a leader. For me, that’s hard work. I’ve learned to do it, but it takes its toll on me. I have a great team around me who give me energy and lift me up. And, I love to have fun, socialise, and laugh, but I also need my downtime to recharge my batteries. So, to my fellow introverts out there, I see you and understand if you need to have a quiet night in rather than a group dinner!