Dara Khosrowshahi beat out the likes of Hewlett Packard Enterprises CEO Meg Whitman and outgoing GE CEO Jeff Immelt for the top spot at Uber. (August 28, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)
Uber’s board of directors on Sunday chose Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of online travel booking website Expedia, to be the new CEO of the embattled on-demand transportation company.
The 48-year-old executive beat out the likes of Hewlett Packard Enterprises CEO Meg Whitman and outgoing GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt for the top spot, surprising industry watchers and some investors, who didn’t even know he was a finalist. Unlike Whitman and Immelt, who were for weeks known to be in the running, Khosrowshahi’s candidacy was something of a secret.
If he accepts the role (neither Uber nor Expedia have responded to requests for comment confirming his appointment), he will become the head of the most valuable privately held company in the U.S.
So who is Dara Khosrowshahi?
Born in Tehran, Khosrowshahi and his family fled Iran on the eve of the Iranian Revolution in 1978 when he was 9 years old.
He grew up in New York state, and he later attended Brown University, where he studied electrical engineering.
What’s his background?
Unlike many tech CEOs who dive straight into launching their own businesses out of college, Khosrowshahi got his start in finance. He spent seven years as an analyst at investment banking firm Allen & Company, and then spent another seven years as chief financial officer at Barry Diller’s IAC, a media and Internet conglomerate that owns brands such as Tinder, Ask.com and Vimeo.
In 2005, he became the chief executive of Seattle-based Expedia, a travel company that was owned by IAC and spun off that same year.
He also sits on the boards of the New York Times, Hotels.com, Expedia and has in the past been a board member of TripAdvisor and Fanatics.
What kind of CEO is he?
Expedia is a well-known brand, but Khosrowshahi doesn’t boast huge name recognition. He’s spent much of his career out of headlines and out of trouble — at least, when compared to his former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, for whom combativeness was a calling card.
Among analysts and peers, he appears to be respected leader.
“I saw that Dara was super smart, super effective, and a really great person to work with,” said Bill Gross, who run the Idealab start-up incubator in Pasadena and sat on Ticketmaster’s board with Khosrowshahi.
During his 12 years at Expedia, Khosrowshahi more than quintupled the company’s share price from around $24 in 2005 to $142.90 today. He was behind the company’s expansion into the so-called sharing economy with the $3.9-billion acquisition of HomeAway, a short-term home-rental platform that competes with Airbnb.
“He’s been very successful in ensuring Expedia remains a leader,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research. “He got Expedia into the sharing economy with the HomeAway acquisition. He made sure brands were built out for international expansion. He’s repeatedly overcome the hotel industry. Dara has won far more battles than he’s lost."
About that $94.6-million payday...
In 2015, Expedia’s board of directors was so happy with Khosrowshahi’s performance that it granted him nearly $91 million in stock options. This made Khosrowshahi’s on-paper compensation for the year $94.6 million, putting him near the top of CEO salaries in 2015.
However, his cash salary that year was only $1 million, according to Factset, with a bonus of $2.7 million. The stock options vest over five years and come with strings attached, such as getting Expedia’s stock to hit a certain number.
“Dara Khosrowshahi has been a transformational CEO,” a company spokeswoman said at the time of the stock option grant. “His leadership has elevated the company into a global leader in the online-travel market, and he continues to guide the organization along a growth trajectory that provides extraordinary value to investors and suppliers, as well as to customers and employees and the wider travel marketplace.”
He’s made missteps, too
“It hasn't been all strawberries and whipped cream,” said Harteveldt. “[Expedia hasn’t] been as successful in China as they'd hoped. That's one of the places where they might have bet on the wrong horse. They haven't invested as much as they need to do in personalization technology, and Dara would be the first admit it.”
The right temperament
A common criticism lobbed at Kalanick was that he was hot-headed and quick to argue. Khosrowshahi has been described by peers as the opposite.
“He’s an extremely calm person,” said Hadi Partovi, CEO of education nonprofit Code.org and an Uber investor who grew up with Khosrowshahi. “He’s so hard to rattle and get angry. I’ve never seen him angry. I think he gets that from his father, who’s extremely calm.”
Harteveldt described him as “an extremely fair guy.”
“He does a lot more listening than talking,” Harteveldt said. “Dara will come in as the tiebreaker, but he backs things on merit.”
"If you ask, what do I think of when you say Dara?" said Philip Wolf, founder of travel and tourism market research firm Phocuswright, who has known Khosrowshahi since he took up the helm at Expedia. "I always see that beaming smile on his face."
He’s big on tech
Analysts that monitor Expedia have said that Khosrowshahi helped transform the travel booking company into a “digital powerhouse,” and that Khosrowshahi has been bullish on investing in technology.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he said his latest obsession is with voice search, and he imagines that one day voice search could replace the current system of booking travel.
“You are going to get into a world where people are going to ask questions… and we will be able to answer any question about travel,” he told the publication.
He is also a personal investor in Convoy, an on-demand trucking service that has been describe as the “Uber for long-haul trucking.”
Khosrowshahi has been a political donor to Democrats and Republicans, but he has an been an outspoken critic of President Trump, which could help endear him to the largely liberal Silicon Valley tech community.
When the president signed an executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Iran, from entering the U.S. for 90 days, Khosrowshahi wrote in an email to employees that he thought the president “reverted to a short game,” describing the move as “reactionary versus visionary."
He also joined the likes of Amazon in supporting a Washington state lawsuit challenging the executive order.
In February, shortly after the travel ban was announced, he ended an earnings call with analysts, saying: “Hopefully we will all be alive to see the end of next year."
And after the president blamed “both sides” for the violence that occurred at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Khosrowshahi tweeted: "I keep waiting for the moment when our Prez will rise to the expectations of his office and he fails, repeatedly."
He has also a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage.
Aside from work
When Khosrowshahi got married in 2012, his wife, Sydney Shapiro, reportedly wore a Slayer shirt down the aisle. “That tells you what kind of woman I’m lucky enough to be with,” the father of four told Bloomberg.
Growing up, Khosrowshahi was the captain of his high school soccer and lacrosse teams, Partovi said. If the accounts he chooses to follow on Twitter are any indication, Khoswrowshahi remains an avid European soccer fan.
He’s also not shy about sporting a Halloween costume around the office.
Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Already a subscriber? Your support makes our work possible. Thank you. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.
11 a.m.: This article was updated to include more description of Khosrowshahi’s personality and a tweet showing him dressed as a condiment.
This article was originally published at 9:55 a.m.