This week, Grab appointed Suthen Thomas, who has been with the company since its founding, as its Group CTO.
This effectively ends a period since Theo Vassilakis’s departure in September 2019, where Grab did not have a group CTO, but CTOs for individual businesses: Mark Porter for mobility, Suthen for delivery, and India-based Vikas Agrawal for financial services.
Suthen Thomas is a true Grab veteran, having joint the company at its founding in 2011. Aside from the gap between 2013-2015 where he acquired a Master in Public Policy degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Policy, Suthen has been with Grab throughout, moving through the ranks.
Some thoughts about Suthen’s appointment:
- Back in 2014, when Grab first raised significant money – a key concern by investors was how to quickly boost its tech capabilities. Its first cohort of engineers, while dedicated, were not experienced enough – and the region’s talent pool was not good enough.
- So Grab went on a journey of acquiring CTOs and senior tech leaders from outside the region. Facebook veteran Wei Zhu joined as CTO from July 2014 to August 2015, and Vassilakis had a tenure betweeen Oct 2017 and June 2019;
- Grab also built R&D centers in different cities across the globe – including Beijing, Seattle and Bangalore outside Southeast Asia;
- However, western executives historically found it difficult to fit in Grab’s culture and organisation. Steve Yegge, who served as Head of Engineering for Ads and Monetisation between 2018 and 2020, did a very good job describing such differences in his Medium post;
- Over the years, Grab has been also improving on its understanding on itself, as well as the pathway it takes. In that sense, Suthen, who has grown with the organisation from the very beginning, might be the best person to move things forward;
- Suthen, who not only has the understanding of the organisation (and its nuances), but also led integration of different services as well as operational teams, is actually a good candidate;
- At the end of the day, Grab is as much an operational excellence company as a technological one.
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