Commentary

Expedia's Khosrowshahi Emerges As Surprise Pick For Uber CEO

After a not-surprisingly contentious weekend, Uber’s board has offered its CEO position to Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi after General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the candidate backed by co-founder and deposed CEO Travis Kalanick, purportedly backed out for lack of support, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, the candidate favored by investor Benchmark Capital, reportedly asked for too much control.

The company has not made a formal announcement, and Khosrowshahi has not publicly accepted the offer, presumably because Uber says it wants to let its employees know first. If they have online access, they’ve heard. The news leaked out and was widely reported last night.

“The decision caps a remarkably chaotic leadership search for the world’s most valuable venture-funded startup, one that has been shaken by an internecine war on the Uber board,” writes Greg Bensinger for the Wall Street Journal. Kalanick, who was forced to resign in June after multiple scandals rocked the ride-sharing company, remains a board member.

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Khosrowshahi, 48, has led Expedia since it was spun off from IAC/InterActiveCorp. in 2005. He brought in the booking sites Travelocity and Orbitz, as well as the home rental site HomeAway, among other acquisitions. In all, the company operates about 200 websites in about 75 countries, and has listings for about 350,000 hotels and 500 airlines. 

“Uber’s incoming CEO immigrated to Tarrytown, New York, in 1978 from Iran, right before the revolution, when he was 9 years old. In Iran, Khosrowshahi’s family owned a chain of manufacturing plants. When he was 13, Khosrowshahi’s father traveled back to Iran to take care of his father and was detained for six years before he returned to the United States,” writes April Glaser for Slate

“Given his own experience as a refugee, it wasn’t surprising earlier this year when Khosrowshahi was among the first in the tech industry to sign on to legal action challenging the Trump administration’s travel ban on individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries,” she continues, having pointed out that Khosrowshahi “just might be the anti-Travis Kalanick.” 

“While Kalanick fought for months to remain on an advisory council to President Trump, despite criticism and calls for his departure from Silicon Valley peers and his employees, Khosrowshahi has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration and its policies,” write Marissa Lang and Carolyn Said for SFGate. “Earlier this year, Khosrowshahi ended an earnings call with investors by saying, ‘Hopefully we will all be alive to see the end of next year.’”

“Dara is not a white man; as an immigrant from Iran, he can relate to a lot of the challenges that some underrepresented people at Uber may have been through,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, tells Lang and Said. “Dara is not a tech bro, which is not to say he is a stodgy guy — he is not, but Dara is an adult. And he leads like one.”

“My whole life, anytime I've faced a high-pressure decision, my model for mature behavior has been, ‘What would Dara do?’ He's one of the humblest and most even-keeled people I know,” Ali Partovi, an entrepreneur and technology investor who is Khosrowshahi’s second cousin, tells the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin. 

He’s also good at making money.

“He led Expedia to deliver a roughly 760% total shareholder return as an independently listed company, Eikon data shows, or more than twice the return of the Nasdaq Composite index. That will be music to the ears of large investors like Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that have staked their reputations investing uncharacteristically large sums with Uber,” writes Reuters’ Una Galani.

“The era of avoidable PR disasters could be over, too. Women represent half of the workforce at Expedia, and get paid the same as men in equivalent roles,” Galani continues, pointing out that he has a 93% approval rating from employees on Glassdoor.

Speaking of rankings, “in 2015, Khosrowshahi was the highest paid CEO in the S&P 500, with compensation totaling $94.6 million, according to a report compiled by Equilar and the Associated Press. The bulk of that came from a stock award worth nearly $91 million at the time, which was scheduled to vest over the next five-and-a-half years. Khosrowshahi made a mere fraction of that, about $2.5 million, the following year,” reports Alison Griswold for Quartz. “… It is unclear how much of Khosrowshahi’s 2015 stock award has vested, and by extension how much money he might leave on the table were he to accept the CEO job at Uber.”

Even more unclear, perhaps, is why he’d want the job in the first place … but that’s why he gets the big bucks, isn’t it?

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