Issue of the week: A new Uber CEO takes the wheel
Uber has a new CEO, and “he just might be the anti–Travis Kalanick,” said April Glaser in Slate.com. The ride-hailing juggernaut’s board this week tapped Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to succeed the ousted Kalanick, ending a contentious, months-long search. Like Kalanick, the 48-year-old Khosrowshahi has been wildly successful in Silicon Valley, building Expedia into “one of the most powerful online transportation empires in the world.” But unlike Kalanick, whose win-at-all-costs management style helped incubate a toxic corporate culture, Khosrowshahi has made Expedia an example for the rest of the tech industry. In a heavily male field, Expedia’s workforce is 50 percent female, including 25 percent of its technical staff. And Fortune named Expedia one of the best places to work this year.
“In Khosrowshahi, Uber has selected a CEO who is both a logical successor to Kalanick and a reaction to his most obvious shortcomings,” said Derek Thompson in TheAtlantic.com. Uber and Expedia are both in the business of connecting consumers with service providers. Switching from hotels and airfare to on-demand rides shouldn’t be a huge leap for Khosrowshahi, who has quadrupled Expedia’s revenue since becoming CEO in 2005. But where Kalanick was regarded “as a prototypical tech bro,” Khosrowshahi is seen as “an amiable leader” with a “calm, no-drama approach to business.” Their approach to politics is different, too: the Iranian-born Khosrowshahi, who fled that country’s revolution as a child, has been an outspoken critic of President Trump.
Given all of Uber’s recent troubles, “why would anyone want to be CEO of this mess?” said Shira Ovide in Bloomberg.com. On Khosrowshahi’s first day, he’ll have to address allegations that Uber stole driverless car technology from Google, mollify drivers disgruntled over pay, and try to reinvigorate a demoralized workforce. These challenges “would be tough to navigate even if the company’s owners were all on the same page. They’re not.” Khosrowshahi was a compromise pick for factions on Uber’s board at war over the company’s direction. Plus, Kalanick remains a director; he’s reportedly angling to return as leader. “Even a perfect CEO will find it tough to succeed in such conditions.”
Which is why Khosrowshahi shouldn’t pretend Uber is a “oneman show,” as it was under Kalanick, said Max Chafkin in Bloomberg Businessweek. Losing $650 million a quarter isn’t something one person can fix alone. His hires over the next few months will be crucial. Khosrowshahi’s main task will be figuring out how big Uber’s ambitions should be, said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. Kalanick wanted to make Uber “the Amazon of transportation,” using on-demand technology to change how people and products move. Under Khosrowshahi’s more conservative approach, Uber might become more like Expedia— a major player, “but not hell-bent on becoming the next great American tech behemoth.” Silicon Valley loves a grandiose vision. But if Uber settles for being a little more ordinary, with a happier workforce and a better shot at profits, it “may be a fine trade.” ■