Dara Khosrowshahi, the low-profile chief executive of travel booking company Expedia, on Tuesday accepted an offer to be Uber’s next CEO.
In an email sent to Uber employees two days after offering him the job, the company’s board of directors confirmed Khosrowshahi’s appointment.
“We’re really fortunate to gain a leader with Dara’s experience, talent and vision,” the email read. “The board and the executive leadership team are confident that Dara is the best person to lead Uber into the future building world-class products, transforming cities, and adding value to the lives of drivers and riders around the world while continuously improving our culture and making Uber the best place to work.”
Khosrowshahi will meet with employees on Wednesday during the company’s all-hands meeting, the email said.
Khosrowshahi’s appointment ends the board’s search for a leader to replace former Uber chief and co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was pressured to resign in June.
The search was far from smooth, with reports of the board divided over which candidate to endorse (outgoing GE chief Jeff Immelt and HP Enterprise chief Meg Whitman were among the finalists), a lawsuit filed by Uber investor Benchmark attempting to bar Kalanick from interfering in the hiring process and other Uber investors publicly condemning Benchmark’s legal action.
Despite Whitman announcing on Twitter in July that she was no longer in the running, Uber’s board was still asking the HP Enterprise chief to reconsider as of last week.
“They asked what it would take for me to change my mind,” Whitman said Monday in an interview with the Financial Times. “I was not a contender for this job until the weekend — and I’m not even sure I was then.”
Khosrowshahi was something of a surprise pick for industry followers because, unlike Whitman and Immelt, he isn’t a household name, nor has he had experience running some of the world’s largest companies.
But business experts and industry peers said Khosrowshahi’s 12 years leading Expedia, and his time before that as chief financial officer at Barry Diller’s media conglomerate IAC, is proof enough that he is an apt deal maker who can grow a publicly traded business and turn a profit.
“He’s adult enough to face the cultural issues at Uber, and he’s not stodgy or from a legacy technology company,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research who has followed Khosrowshahi’s career at Expedia. “Dara has turned Expedia from a travel agency into a digital powerhouse. He’s made outstanding acquisitions at Expedia, which I think will be a big part of Uber’s future.”
During his time at Expedia, Khosrowshahi made aggressive buys, such as the 2015 purchase of holiday rental service HomeAway for $3.9 billion and travel agencies Otis, Travelocity and Wotif. He also quintupled the company’s share price.
The new CEO will have his work cut out for him, though. Uber has spent the better part of this 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 top of that, there is mounting expectation that the company, which is privately valued at $70 billion, will go public soon without losing value for shareholders.
“What a new CEO needs to do is identify actions behind which there is already some kind of momentum, identify problems that already exist, and see which of these problems they can make the biggest difference,” said Arvind Bhambri, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business who has studied successful CEO transitions.
“You don’t want a new CEO to come in and start talking about a big vision. What you really want them to be is a highly results-oriented manager who looks at the nuts and bolts. What are the actions that can be taken that can have immediate consequences on the people and the culture?”