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Consumer Products | Retail

How to Lead in Fast-Paced E-commerce Operations


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Published: October 23, 2023

Omar Alkarimy is no stranger to the constantly evolving world of operations. With a journey that began in the traditional setting of Procter & Gamble Egypt, advanced through the e-commerce ecosystem, and currently navigating the rapid growth landscape of Coupang in Taiwan, he embodies what it means to be a modern operations leader. But what excites him about the field, and how does he approach the complex web of tech retail operations, diverse team management, and international business context?

The Two Pillars of Excitement: Dynamic Industry and Leading People

Operations is not just about the nuts and bolts for Omar; it’s also about the people. His transition from a more traditional operations role at Procter & Gamble to the tech-savvy, fast-paced roles at one of the largest tech retailers in Middle East and Africa and Coupang has not only been a change in the nature of the work but also an expansion in the breadth and depth of human interactions. Omar relishes the challenge of leading large, interdisciplinary teams toward common goals. “The nature of the industry is more dynamic,” he says, which is what drives his enthusiasm for the field.

The Unique Footprint of E-commerce Operations

Omar identifies three defining features that set e-commerce operations apart from other sectors:

  1. Customer Centricity: The immediacy of the relationship between operations and the customer in e-commerce means that even a 1% miss in operational metrics results in a corresponding 1% of dissatisfied customers. Customer satisfaction isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a metric of operational success.
  2. Speed and Agility: In the e-commerce world, these aren’t luxuries but necessities. To win and retain customers, you must be quick and flexible.
  3. Exponential Growth: While a 5-10% growth rate is considered high in traditional FMCG sectors, e-commerce routinely sees 2x growth year-over-year. This places a unique demand on operations to scale quickly and efficiently.

Bridging Cultural Divides: Relationship Management in East and West

When it comes to supplier relationships, Omar has observed distinct cultural nuances. In Western countries, performance metrics largely define the quality of business relationships. However, in Eastern countries, relationship-building extends beyond the boundaries of work. This isn’t just a minor cultural footnote; it’s a critical operational variable. “Having relationships outside of work is also very important,” Omar emphasizes.

Universal Best Practices: Gemba Walks

Omar embraces the Japanese concept of ‘Gemba,’ meaning “the real place” where work happens. Leaders, according to him, need to understand the granular details of what their frontline workers are doing. By engaging in “Gemba walks” — a workplace walkthrough which aims to observe employees, ask about their tasks, and identify productivity gains — leaders can observe, ask questions, and gain firsthand insights into daily operations. This, in turn, enables better decision-making and planning at the leadership level.

Leading in a Multicultural Environment: Empathy and Education

Leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all; it must be tailored to the context. When Omar moved to Taiwan, he invested time to educate himself about the cultural do’s and don’ts. He also emphasizes the importance of being an empathetic leader, constantly checking in with team members to create a feedback loop. “Be a more empathetic leader so that you can really better communicate with your team,” he advises.

Final Thoughts

Omar Alkarimy’s approach to operations is a master class in adaptability, cultural intelligence, and people-focused leadership. As the landscape of global operations continues to evolve, particularly in the e-commerce sector, the insights Omar shares are not just reflective of his personal journey but indicative of the broader shifts in the industry. His focus on customer centricity, agility, and cultural sensitivity serve as beacons for any aspiring operations leader in today’s increasingly interconnected and dynamic world.

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