5 Things We Learned About Uber's New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

The ride-hailing service's new leader got real at The New York Times' annual DealBook Conference.
5 Things We Learned About Uber's New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
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In just a few months on the job, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has done quick work making the role his own.

In the wake of regulators in London banning the service earlier this fall, instead of the sharp-elbowed approach that was characteristic of Travis Kalanick’s era as CEO, Khosrowshahi’s first move out of the gate was to apologize for the mistakes of the past.

Related: Uber Needs to Recreate its Company Culture. Here's What You Can Learn From Its Mistakes.

Recently, Khosrowshahi has continued his emphasis on accountability and transparency, taking to LinkedIn to share a post detailing the company’s “new cultural norms,” focusing on eight pillars ranging from “We are customer obsessed” to “We value ideas over hierarchy.” Pillar number four requires little parsing for hidden meaning -- “We do the right thing. Period.”

With those opening salvos under his belt, Khosrowshahi spoke candidly at The New York Times DealBook Conference, last week on November 9, about the challenges facing the company and the goals he and his team -- including Kalanick who is still on the board -- are working toward.

Here is what we learned about the new chief executive.


Another CEO convinced him to consider the role at Uber.

While Khosrowshahi’s initial instinct was to ignore the call from Uber, happy with his role as CEO of Expedia and wanting to avoid what he describes as the “media circus” surrounding the company. But a conversation with Spotify’s CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek prompted him to rethink his stance. Khosrowshahi said Ek’s advice was simple. “He said ‘since when is life about being happy? It's about doing something great,’” Khosrowshahi recalled. He also noted that his wife always thought he would be hired, and he owes her $5 on a bet they made to that effect.

He took a firm stance with Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi recalled a conversation he had very early on with former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick, who despite exiting from his role this summer still remains on the company’s board. Khosrowshahi explained to DealBook moderator and journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin that he told Kalanick point blank, “I need my space. I need to be able to meet with [the] team. I need to be able to communicate with them so that they're just communicating with me and they don't have someone to go around if they don't like something that they've heard. So you've got to let me engage with the team, the company [and] with the culture.”

He thinks there are aspects of Uber that can be salvaged.

Khosrowshahi noted that while there are certainly elements of Uber’s culture that had to be cast aside in order to move forward -- for example, a principle of confrontation and challenging your teammates that was ultimately used to mask bad behavior -- he said that it was important not to discount what came before in order to best move forward. The fact is that it's those values that created the most highly valued private company in the world. “You don't want to take everything that brought it here and throw it away because there's a huge amount of value and capability there,” Khosrowshahi told Ross Sorkin. “You want to get the take the best of what brought the company here and then combine it with a new set of norms and a new set of behaviors to take us to the next step.”

An IPO is on the horizon.

Khosrowshahi shared that 2019 is the target to take Uber public. When Ross Sorkin asked him about why they were working toward that goal now, when in the past Kalanick wanted to stay private for as long as possible, the CEO had this to say: “We have all of the disadvantages of being a public company as far as a spotlight on us, without any of the advantages of being a public company, so Travis and the whole board now agree that we should just go public,” he explained. “If you set up the company in the right way, and you are honest and plainspoken to your investors about being a long-term player, sacrificing short-term quarterly results for long-term gain, you will find that right set of shareholders who will support you.”

He is optimistic about the future.

Khosrowshahi says he believes that as long as you have smart people and a strong product, it is possible to right the off-course ship.“The talent of the company is extraordinary. The culture went wrong, and the governance of the company went wrong and the board went in a very bad direction. But, if the product is good, and if you can bring in good leadership, you can ultimately bring it together,” he says “And I think we're on our way.”

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