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Uber names former Orbitz chief Barney Harford as chief operating officer

Uber names former Orbitz chief Barney Harford as chief operating officer
Uber named former Orbitz CEO Barney Harford as its new chief operating officer. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Former Orbitz chief Barney Harford has been named the No. 2 executive at Uber, as the company tries to move past a year of controversies and setbacks.

CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over the embattled ride-sharing company in August, announced Harford’s appointment in a note to employees Wednesday.

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Harford has been serving as an advisor to Uber for the past few months and “will hit the ground running in January.”

“I have never met a stronger operator or a more thoughtful strategist than Barney,” Khosrowshahi said in a note to Uber employees. “He is able to go deep on key aspects of a business while never losing sight of the big strategic picture.”

Khosrowshahi, the low-profile former chief executive of travel booking company Expedia, said he and Harford worked together at Expedia, before Harford was appointed CEO of Orbitz in 2009.

Uber has spent the year in crisis mode, weathering allegations of a toxic culture that allowed discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. It also faces a high-profile lawsuit from Google’s self-driving vehicle arm, Waymo, over alleged theft and use of trade secrets.

On Wednesday, the company was dealt another blow in Europe when the European Union’s highest court ruled that Uber is a transportation service that is subject to transportation regulation.

The company also has battled with its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, who resigned from the role of chief executive in June. He has tried to retain some control of the company. Rumors swirled in August that he was angling for a comeback, with Recode reporting that Kalanick had told people he was “Steve Jobs-ing it” — a reference to the Apple cofounder who was ousted from his company but later made a triumphant return.

Uber co-founder and board member Garrett Camp tried to put those rumors to rest that same month, writing in an email to staff, “Travis is not returning as CEO. We are committed to hiring a new world class CEO to lead Uber.”

Still, Kalanick remains on the company’s board and has the power to appoint anyone he wants to three board seats. Investor Benchmark tried to wrestle some of that control back from Kalanick in August when it sued the co-founder, alleging in the lawsuit that Kalanick misled investors into creating and granting him appointment powers of those seats.

The lawsuit is on hold while an investment deal with Japanese conglomerate Softbank is pending. If the deal goes through, Kalanick is likely to be stripped of some of his powers.

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