Photo: Kait Loggins
Uber has gone through a lot in recent months, culminating in the resignation of its founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick in June. Now comes the company’s biggest change since former engineer Susan Fowler blasted the company for its alleged sexist culture in a blog post back in February.
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reportedly told The Wall Street Journal from Expedia’s Washington headquarters today that although the contract has not yet been completed, he’s all in for the position as the new Uber CEO. This is his first public commentary on the matter.
He did not tell the publication what role former Uber head Travis Kalanick will play in the company’s next chapter, but “indicated” that he would still be part of it.
In a few of his first public comments, Khosrowshahi said the connection between them is “budding” and that “I think there’s mutual respect there.”
The board voted Sunday to have Khosrowshahi take the wheel as its new CEO, The New York Times reported.
Khosrowshahi has been the online travel company’s president and chief executive since 2005, and Business Insider reported that he’s the U.S. CEO who took home the most money in 2015. Recode reports that Khosrowshahi should greet Uber’s workforce during an all-hands meeting taking place either today or Tuesday.
Uber’s scandals have been unfurling for months, as chronicled by this Wired timeline (up to June 2017).
Reuters summed it up, reporting that “Khosrowshahi, 48, would take on the daunting task of leading Uber out of a nearly year-long crisis. That includes mending Uber’s image, repairing frayed relations with investors, rebuilding employee morale and creating a profitable business after seven years of losses.”
So what can Khosrowshahi bring to the roiling company that distinguishes him from Kalanick? These are the qualities that set him apart as a leader — and unsurprisingly, they’re exactly the kinds of traits companies want when they’re in a crisis.
He’s personable and measured in his speech
Kalanick demonstrated that he doesn’t always get along with his employees in this video, which Bloomberg wrote about. He gets into a heated conversation over with the driver about decreasing salaries at Uber.
Kalanick apologized to the driver in a message to employees, writing, “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
Khosrowshahi seems to have a different, more likable management approach that could help the company heal.
Burke Norton, former Salesforce and Expedia senior executive, told Recode that Khosrowshahi commands loyalty and is honest.
“Dara is the smartest, most passionate and thoughtful executive I’ve worked with in 25 years…He has super high integrity and is a phenomenal leader — the kind of leader whom people would follow into a burning building,” Norton said.
That’s a contrast from the impulsive Kalanick, who was given to making head-slapping public statements like calling the company “Boober” for all the female attention it won him.
A Washington Post article draws attention to Khosrowshahi’s calm demeanor. Ali Partovi, the executive’s cousin, reportedly spoke about how Khosrowshahi was a role model for himself and his brother during an interview.
“My whole life, anytime I’ve faced a high-pressure decision, my model for mature behavior has been, ‘What would Dara do’? He’s one of the humblest and most even-keeled people I know,” Partovi said.
It’s a long way from Kalanick’s “fits of anger.”
He isn’t afraid to take a political stance
Kalanick came out against the Muslim travel ban in a Facebook post in January, where he outlined what the company would do for drivers who might be affected by it, including “24/7 legal support for drivers” attempting to return to the U.S.
Khosrowshahi has gone further, taking on a role as an advocate for minorities, which should go over well with Uber’s diverse force of drivers.
Business Insider published an internal message to Expedia employees where Khosrowshahi, who is Iranian American, wrote about his opposition to the travel ban, which includes Iran.
He drew on personal experiences.
After writing that his family came from there to the US in 1978 after the Iranian Revolution, he wrote, “We sure didn’t feel like refugees, but in hindsight I guess we were…” then talking about how his parents “left everything behind” to start a new life for their sons in America.
He then writes about the process of getting a Green Card, and that when it happened, they “knew that we were welcome now, and we would be welcome tomorrow.”
He then writes about why he was against the president and the ban, including that America “will certainly be seen as a smaller nation, one that is inward-looking versus forward thinking, reactionary versus visionary.”
This perspective is important because it all boils down to managing a culture shift, which Khosrowshahi has undergone in his lifetime.
Uber will need to turn its corporate culture around, but having emigrated to the U.S. as a child and worked at multiple companies with different goals, he may be able to provide valuable insight.