Uber’s board of directors has picked Dara Khosrowshahi to be the company’s next CEO, according to Recode and the New York Times, filling the spot that was vacated by Travis Kalanick back in June. Khosrowshahi comes from Expedia where he has been CEO since 2005. The board met throughout the weekend, and was choosing between Khosrowshahi and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman.
The choice ends nearly two months of constant speculation, as well as reported meddling by Kalanick, who still maintains a seat on Uber’s board.
Khosrowshahi came to Expedia by way of IAC, the conglomerate of brands that now includes everything from Ask.com to Tinder. Expedia was originally part of IAC’s travel vertical, but was spun out in 2005, with Khosrowshahi leading the ship. He’s been in the role since then and has overseen Expedia as it rose from $15 billion in bookings to $72 billion last year. He’s also incredibly well paid for that feat.
As the head of a travel company, Khosrowshahi is not at all foreign to the transportation industry. Expedia works with car rental and other transportation companies to get travelers between destinations, which is very much a macroscopic version of what Uber intends to do. Uber is yet to officially announce his position; according to Recode, he has yet to formally accept the job too (though he’s expected to), and it’s not clear when he’ll start once that happens.
Whitman was thought to be the frontrunner over the weekend, and even reportedly made a presentation on Saturday, even though she had tweeted back in July that she was “not going anywhere” with respect to HPE. “So let me make this as clear as I can. I am fully committed to HPE and plan to remain the company’s CEO,” she wrote last month. “Uber’s CEO will not be Meg Whitman.”
Uber’s board of directors had also considered (and according to many reports, heavily favored) GE chairman Jeff Immelt. But Immelt announced on Twitter Sunday morning that he had pulled himself out of the running. The New York Times’ Mike Isaac reported Immelt “didn’t have the votes,” while Recode’s Kara Swisher says that the GE chairman was turned off by the ongoing bickering between Uber’s biggest investors. (Earlier this month, Benchmark Capital — an early investor in Uber — sued Kalanick for “fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.” Another group of investors hit Benchmark back with a few nasty letters and a legal move of its own. The posturing has become its own sideshow.)
Kalanick has been the public face of Uber since its inception, and he’s remained CEO through a number of speed bumps and full-blown scandals. But the company’s exploding success on his watch — on top of the fact that he is Uber’s biggest shareholder and had close ties to the company’s board members, giving him sway on board votes — was enough to keep him buckled into the position during that turbulence.
It wasn’t until a group of major Uber investors demanded his resignation in June that the pugnacious CEO finally stepped down. Two of those people — venture capitalists at the investment firm Benchmark — gave Kalanick a letter titled “Moving Uber Forward” while he was in Chicago interviewing candidates to fill Uber’s numerous executive vacancies, according to a June report in the New York Times.
The letter was the culmination of a pressure that had been building since the beginning of 2017. It started when protests sprung up around the United States in response to Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. In particular, a protest at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York City saw the New York Taxi Workers alliance call on drivers to temporarily suspend passenger pickups in solidarity. Uber continued to serve the airport, and some 200,000 users around the world responded by deleting the app from their phones.
(Khosrowshahi, it should be noted, is an immigrant from Iran, and he supported a lawsuit against the travel ban in late January. A week later, he ended Expedia’s quarterly earnings call by saying: “Hopefully we will all be alive to see the end of next year,” an apparent dig at Trump’s fatalistic proclivities. He also tweeted in August that he “keep[s] waiting for the moment when our Prez [sic] will rise to the expectations of his office and he fails, repeatedly” in a tweet where he shared a New York Times story about Trump blaming “both sides” for violence at a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.)
Kalanick quickly committed $3 million to a legal defense fund for drivers who may have been affected by the ban, but the damage to Uber’s (and Kalanick’s) already shaky image was done.
Then came the rest of the year. Three weeks later, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published an astounding account of the sexism and sexual harassment that she witnessed and experienced during her time with the company. Kalanick responded by holding an all-hands meeting and enlisting former US Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an investigation into Fowler’s claims.
More women came forward with accounts similar to Fowler’s in the days that followed. At the same time, Waymo — the self-driving company spun out of Google — filed a lawsuit against Uber for allegedly using stolen information to develop self-driving technology. That lawsuit is still ongoing.
Then, Bloomberg published a video that showed Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver. Calls for Kalanick to resign strengthened, but the CEO responded by apologizing and saying he would seek “leadership help.” Five days later, the New York Times exposed “Greyball,” a program that Uber had been using to evade local regulations.
The problems spiraled as the year stretched on. Recode discovered that a top Uber executive had obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India.
It was only after all this, as well as the problems at Uber in years past — threatening a journalist with a smear campaign, a massive legal fight against its drivers over whether they should be considered full-time employees, to name just a few — that Kalanick resigned. Now it’s up to Khosrowshahi to step into the void and try and give the company a lift.
Additional reporting from Jake Kastrenakes.