Drena Kusari: Helping Lift Lyft

With a hyper-local focus, community is key

by RaeAnne Marsh

As the first female general manager for Lyft, now overseeing both the Southwest region and Hawaii, Drena Kusari attributes the growth and success of the business at the local level to strong community ties and relationships developed with partners. This is a sensibility she brings naturally to her position.

Kusari was born and raised in Kosovo. Kosovo, which became independent in 2008, is not only the newest country in Europe but also one of the smallest — with fewer than 2 million people, it is less than half as big as the Phoenix metro area. Being from a small country gives Kusari appreciation for the community feel at Lyft and the impact it has locally. 

Lyft’s mission as a company is to improve people’s lives through the world’s best transportation, which is accomplished by providing smart, reliable and affordable rides to thousands of passengers daily. But Lyft’s backbone is the community it serves — including both passengers and drivers. The company also works with its partners on many events, raising money for various nonprofits and causes, and providing countless reliable rides home instead of putting someone behind the wheel impaired. Lyft’s success at the local level in nurturing and extending what the brand embodies as a whole results from the support it has garnered from its communities and partners. In Arizona, this same success and growth has come through partnering with governmental and educational institutions, sports and entertainment venues, nonprofits and many other partners. 

Kusari leads her team to be alert to opportunities for Lyft to help local partners and address a need that is at the forefront, whether that’s creating designated pick-up and drop-off zones, alleviating parking issues or just enhancing the fan experience of a beloved sports team.

Her own work in the community has been essential in her success as a general manager at Lyft and has encouraged her to seek out mentoring opportunities, which includes advising nonprofits and startups and serving on several boards. She encourages other women in business to be confident in their abilities and what they have to offer in the workplace. She believes that, by surrounding oneself with mentors, one can learn from their experiences in the long run. It’s also important, she says, to be reflective, celebrate the small wins and continue to rely on those accomplishments if there is ever doubt. She credits her parents for teaching her these lessons: to work very hard, stay humble and always be kind.

Kusari’s philosophy is to consistently empower her team to grow and find new opportunities to develop and learn new things. Her approach has always been “no job is too large and no job is too small,” which she has successfully instilled in her local Lyft team culture. 

Given that the team spends day-in and day-out at their Driver Hub, Kusari also knows first-hand how crucial the driver community is to Lyft, embodying Lyft’s mission on a daily basis. She shares that some of her greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the drivers thrive. She is also inspired by their passengers’ kindness and generosity toward their drivers. Some of them go further than simply leveraging the tipping feature to show gratitude toward drivers. One example involves a driver who had recently become a father and was driving long hours on the Lyft platform to provide for his wife and newborn daughter. The driver and his passenger had gotten to talking and, after the long ride, the passenger said he would like to help the driver pay his monthly car payment. As the ride ended, they went online to make the payment. The passenger not only made the next payment, he made the next 12 payments for the driver. This anecdote brings to life the amazing experiences and exchanges drivers and passengers have on a daily basis.

Kusari embraces Lyft’s corporate directive to keep working alongside partners to help make Phoenix a great city and destination for tourists and locals alike.   

Leadership in Profile

  • Under Drena Kusari’s leadership, Lyft has added more than $100 million in economic value in Phoenix and ridership has grown more than eight times.
  • Kusari earned her MBA at Harvard Business School. 
  • Kusari’s decade of experience in tech-enabled services includes analyst at Goldman Sachs and senior strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company advising Fortune 500 companies.
  • Kusari serves on the boards of Junior Achievement of Arizona, Harvard Business School Club of Arizona, Visit Scottsdale and the ASU Research Park.
  • Kusari has served as a mentor for Social Venture Partners and is a mentor and advisor at Gjirafa Lab, one of the leading technology incubators in the Balkans.

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