Uber's New CEO Choice Should Improve the Brand's Tarnished Image

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Uber Technologies has chosen Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi to run the global ride-hailing firm now that ex-CEO Travis Kalanick has been twice ousted from his executive role. While Uber confirmed it has named a replacement, it declined to make specific reference to Khosrowshahi, saying the board would inform employees first. Likewise, Expedia has not yet confirmed that its current CEO is leaving.

Hoping to distance itself from numerous scandals, Uber has vowed to end what many have called an unsavory corporate culture. As the company’s co-founder, Kalanick enjoyed sweeping authority on the board and has been frequently blamed for its misdeeds — primarily due to his encouraging of an unstructured, dog-eat-dog mentality among the staff. This may have something to do with the surprise choice of Khosrowshahi. As a former Iranian refugee, he is extremely critical of the Trump administration’s travel ban and has received praise in the media for his progressive politics.

On the night of Trump’s electoral win, Khosrowshahi tweeted, “As tech leaders we have to admit that we are hugely disconnected with our nation. I don’t like it but have to recognize this issue.” Expedia later joined Amazon in supporting a lawsuit that would stop the immigration ban in January of this year.

Reuters and The New York Times both reported that Dara was not considered to be the front-runner for the job. General Electric’s Jeff Immelt and Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman were also both under consideration, with Khosrowshahi as the dark horse. It’s believed his successes with Expedia and corporate image may have been the deciding factor for the ride-hailing service.

By contrast, Kalanick’s tarnished imaged seemed unsalvageable by the time of his June withdrawal. In addition to personal gaffes, he was condemned for allowing Uber drivers to continue picking up passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a strike at the location to oppose the travel ban. However, much of the media seems to have forgotten that Uber employees are private contractors and that the former Uber CEO ultimately abandoned Trump’s Advisory Council.

Still, Khosrowshahi is better for business. Being openly critical of the president isn’t necessarily relevant to how he might run the company in the day-to-day, but it does gives something for the board to point to as part of its promise for change. But the CEO would serve as more than just a figurehead. His experience in battling Google could prove invaluable in Uber’s perpetual tug-of-war with Waymo. He also appears to be about as business savvy as they come.

Under his leadership, Expedia more than doubled its annual revenue between 2012 and 2016 ($8.8 billion). The company reported a net income of $281.8 million last year and made Khosrowshahi the highest-paid CEO in the United States in 2015. During his tenure, the travel site expanded by buying companies in similar businesses, including Trivago, Travelocity, and Orbitz. Khosrowshahi also sits on several boards, including one at The New York Times.

Uber also grew into a massive global business under Kalanick. But this year’s scandals and significant financial losses forced him out of the equation permanently.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Aug 28, 2017

    Sounds promising. For this fellow to succeed, he has to be ruthless in weeding out those who promote the ongoing shenanigans at Uber, both internally and customer-facing. Integrity and reputation are easily lost, and slowly recovered. At the end of the day, customer trust and loyalty are the only assets Uber has.

  • Whitworth Whitworth on Aug 28, 2017

    "As a former Iranian refugee, he is extremely critical of the Trump administration’s travel ban and has received praise in the media for his progressive politics. " _______ How does this "improve" Uber's branding? All the polls I've seen show a sold majority support the travel ban. I would say taking a vocal side in politics is bad branding for any company on either side of the aisle.

    • Stuki Stuki on Aug 28, 2017

      "All the polls I’ve seen show a sold majority support the travel ban." Not amongst those buying Uber paper. You have to remember, Uber is in the business of selling paper. That's what they "make" their money from. That other thing they do, is just a headfake employed to keep the hype alive, so they can sell another round of paper. And those first in line, or more like the only ones in line, to receive the ever greater amounts of fresh print emanating from the Fed so they can buy more paper with it, are overwhelmingly progressives.

  • Varezhka The biggest underlying issue of Mitsubishi Motors was that for most of its history the commercial vehicles division was where all the profit was being made, subsidizing the passenger vehicle division losses. Just like Isuzu.And because it was a runt of a giant conglomerate who mainly operated B2G and B2B, it never got the attention it needed to really succeed. So when Daimler came in early 2000s and took away the money making Mitsubishi-Fuso commercial division, it was screwed.Right now it's living off of its legacy user base in SE Asia, while its new parent Nissan is sucking away at its remaining engineering expertise in EV and kei cars. I'd love to see the upcoming US market Delica, so crossing fingers they will last that long.
  • ToolGuy A deep-dive of the TTAC Podcast Archives gleans some valuable insight here.
  • Tassos I heard the same clueless, bigoted BULLSHEET about the Chinese brands, 40 years ago about the Japanese Brands, and more recently about the Koreans.If the Japanese and the Koreans have succeeded in the US market, at the expense of losers such as Fiat, Alfa, Peugeot, and the Domestics,there is ZERO DOUBT in my mind, that if the Chinese want to succeed here, THEY WILL. No matter what one or two bigots do about it.PS try to distinguish between the hard working CHINESE PEOPLE and their GOVERNMENT once in your miserable lives.
  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.