In a move that surprised the tech industry, Uber on Sunday offered its CEO job to a man who wasn’t on anyone’s radar: Expedia’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
If he accepts the job, he will be leading the world’s most valuable privately-held tech startup, valued at more than $US60 billion by its investors. But he will also have an incredibly tough job steering the ride-hailing company back to stability, after months of controversies and bitter infighting at the board level.
So who is Uber’s chosen one?
Khosrowshahi, 48, has been CEO of Expedia for 12 years. Expedia is based in Bellevue, Washington. That means Khosrowshahi has spent his tech career as part of the Seattle’s tech scene, not Silicon Valley’s. While both regions are powerhouses in the tech industry, there’s also a bit of a rivalry between them.
Besides Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s coterie of execs, many of Seattle’s tech leaders don’t carry the same level of instant name recognition as their Silicon Valley peers. This seems to have allowed Khosrowshahi to get all the way to the final offer for Uber’s top job without anyone in the Valley so much as blinking in his direction.
Indeed, after weeks of speculation and leaks about high profile candidates like HPE’s Meg Whitman and former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, the news of Khosrowshahi’s selection provoked a one-word reaction among many observers: Who?
While not a tech celebrity, Khosrowshahi has had a very impressive and respectable run during his long tenure at Expedia, growing its revenues from $US2.1 billion in in 2005 to $US8.7 billion in 2016. He turned Expedia into the biggest online travel agency in the US, owning travel sites like Hotels.com, Orbitz, Trivago, HomeAway, Travelocity as well as sites for vacation rentals, car rentals and so on.
Khosrowshahi was born in Iran but came to the US as a kid, grew up in New York State and is a US citizen. He has a degree in electrical engineering from Brown University, according to his LinkedIn, Prior to running Expedia, he was the CFO at IAC, the internet and media conglomerate chaired by Barry Diller. IAC bought Expedia in 2003, then spun it out into Khosrowshahi’s hands in 2005.
Not afraid to speak his mind
Before landing at IAC, Khosrowshahi was in finance, working for investment bank Allen & Co for seven years.
He has a reputation as a good leader, according to ratings on Glassdoor, with a 93% approval rating.
Khosrowshahi is known for his strong belief in how technology is eating the world. For instance, he recently developed an obsession for voice search, and uses several voice assistants at home, he told the Financial Times Leslie Hook last month. He imagines a day when someone could book an entire travel itinerary through voice.
He also hasn’t been afraid to speak out against President Trump, who’s immigration policies have created uncertainty for the travel industry.
After white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, and Trump was slow to condemn them for the ensuing violence, Khosrowshahi tweeted, “I keep waiting for the moment when our Prez will rise to the expectations of his office and he fails, repeatedly.”
His willingness to be outspoken about politics probably isn’t that surprising. He’s on the board of the The New York Times Company. He’s also on the board of sports fan apparel site Fanatics, and he’s a director on Expedia’s board.
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