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

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.

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