Jess Morton: I've been here a year and barely scratched the surface

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Relocating to a new city with the intention of staying just a few months and finding yourself still there a year later is something many Australian expatriates have experienced. Jess Morton, the Country Lead at Uber Eats in Japan is no exception.

Jess is a prime example of how leaving Australia, even for a short period of time, can be incredibly advantageous for career progression, stating that she wouldn’t necessarily have the same opportunities had she stayed in Sydney.

Jess shed some insight to her life in Japan; what she wished she had known before she moved, what the workplace culture is like, and what the biggest drawcards are for Australian expats.

With the future of Uber and Uber Eats in Japan looking very bright, it’s safe to say that Tokyo has gained a very talented Australian export.

How did you end up living and working in Tokyo?

A completely random series of events led me to be working in Tokyo. I joined the Uber team in Sydney in August of 2015. Initially, I was in a Strategy and Planning role, involving a lot of analytics and problem-solving. I had previously worked in investment banking and the reason I originally joined Uber was that I wanted to learn how to grow and manage businesses.

The Strategy and Planning role, while amazing, it didn't quite get me close enough to what I wanted to be involved in.

In early 2016, Uber Eats was planning to launch in Singapore, their first market in Asia, and I asked my manager if I could go there and help out. I had packed up my bags and left within three days, and then stayed in Singapore for a couple of months.

Once that had finished, I was in a unique position of being one of a handful of people in Asia that knew how to launch Uber Eats and how to operate that business. So, I was then asked to go to Tokyo and help launch Uber Eats there. I ended up staying in Tokyo for three months before going back to Australia to launch in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

In February of 2017 Tokyo needed extra help to grow the business so I came back. At the moment, I am currently leading the Uber Eats business for Japan.

How big is Uber in Tokyo?

There is actually only Uber Black in Tokyo, there’s no UberX. As for Uber Eats, we're now in all twenty-three wards of Tokyo, which represents a residential population of over 9 million people.

What do you enjoy most about working at Uber Eats in Tokyo?

I love being able to work on an extremely diverse set of problems. One moment I could be trying to work out long-term strategies for the business and the next moment I could be diving deep into our sales funnel and trying to figure out how to increase conversion rates.

My work is super interesting and we have a great culture. My office is in Ebisu, surrounded by hundreds of restaurants. I've been here for a year in and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of places to go and things to do.

How would you describe the workplace culture in Tokyo, compared to Sydney?

Generally speaking, Japanese and Australian work culture is extremely different. I would say Uber in Japan is not the traditional Japanese working environment. As an American company, there's a really nice mix of Western company culture, with the Japanese flavour that we have here.

It was a huge adjustment at first, I found the working culture to be very hierarchical. People don't express themselves so readily, which means you don't always get a direct opinion, and people work very long hours. Uber in Japan is not like that today. In the context of a team which self-selected into working for an American company in Japan (as opposed to a more traditionally Japanese company), I've worked hard to build a culture that balances the best of both Japanese and the Western cultures.

Are there any downfalls?

Tokyo is a bit claustrophobic at times. There are thirty-eight million people in the greater Tokyo area. That's the population of greater LA and greater New York put together, but in one-tenth of the land mass; it's incredibly dense for a huge amount of space. But the great thing about being in Tokyo is that you can travel on a train one to two hours and you can be in the mountains. There are mountains all around, so you can go hiking. In the winter, you can go skiing. There's actually a lot you can do in nature to get out of that city life, which is great.

What opportunities have been presented to you, living in Tokyo, that you may not have been granted in Australia?

Where can I start? I think the most important thing about working outside of Australia is that you get a very rich and diverse vantage point about how the world works. You see the world in a different light.

I think there are far more career opportunities overseas than in Australia. For example, in Uber Australia, there are a huge amount of talented people at every single level. Here, the business is at an earlier stage and that opens up many growth opportunities. 

Is there much of an Australian community in Tokyo?

Definitely. A lot of my friends here are Australian, including some Japanese people who grew up or studied in Australia. So, in that sense, you can meet people that are a bridge between two cultures. It's really fun, meeting people from all different sorts of backgrounds.

What's the biggest draw-card for Australian expats to move over to Tokyo?

Most people fall in love with Tokyo when they come here on holiday. Aussies come here to ski, and then they start to grasp just how enormous Tokyo is and how fun it would be to live here. Of all the really big cities in the world, it's probably the most diverse. And definitely the weirdest!

Is there anything that you'd wish you'd known before you moved over, or is there any advice that you'd impart on Aussies or any expats thinking about making the move?

I think the two things about Tokyo that will strike any expat when they come is feeling isolated, and the time required to settle in and build a network. On the former, I suggest getting Japanese lessons straight away and committing to a couple of intense months of learning! After that, you'll feel much more comfortable and enabled. On the latter, I think this is true for any new city - but particularly true for Tokyo because it's just so different.

So, I would recommend really committing to learning the language and establishing connections up front, and then it'll be amazing.

What do you see is the trajectory for Uber and Uber Eats in Tokyo for the next few years?

I think it has a huge trajectory. What we've seen in Uber Eats with Tokyo gave us the confidence to launch Yokohama and we'll certainly look at other cities in quick order. I am really pumped about the future of Uber in Japan!

AsiaAdvanceBorn Global, Tokyo