Expedia today named engineering leader Aman Bhutani as the new president of its flagship Expedia brand and related businesses, taking over a job that Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had been handling as an extra role for more than three years as part of the turnaround of the online travel giant.
Bhutani is a five-year Expedia veteran who has made his mark as senior vice president of worldwide engineering, establishing a data-driven, “test and learn” culture in the company’s global tech team, which has grown to 2,000 people across 10 offices. Bhutani has also been a key player in Expedia’s acquisition spree, overseeing the integration of companies such as Wotif and Travelocity.
Expedia, based in Bellevue, Wash., is announcing the news of Bhutani’s new role internally to employees this morning.
Khosrowshahi said an interview with GeekWire that Expedia.com’s rebound led him to re-establish the position of Expedia president as a standalone role, allowing him to focus on leading the broader company. The CEO’s job is only getting bigger, with Expedia’s pending $1.6 billion acquisition of Orbitz on the horizon, and a closely watched headquarters move in the works.
“Whenever you make a leadership change, you want to make it from a position of strength,” Khosrowshahi said. “Aman has been in the business for five years now. He has been a really effective technology and general leader, and he really has respect across the company. … We think it’s the right time, and he’s the right guy.”
Bhutani will become the president of what’s known internally as the Brand Expedia Group, which includes Expedia.com, Travelocity, Wotif, and Expedia’s joint venture with AirAsia, in addition to supporting product development, technology and media for all groups across the company.
He will be dealing with a dynamic competitive landscape in the new role. Following the latest wave of industry consolidation, Expedia and Priceline Group have emerged as the major players in online travel, but larger tech companies including Amazon and Google are increasingly moving into the travel business themselves.
“Our competition is really outside these four walls, and the more we grow, the harder it is to keep this entire organization, and all the different sophisticated functions, focused on competing externally,” Bhutani said when asked about his biggest challenges in the new role. “Travel is a $1.3 trillion industry. Everyone in e-commerce wants a piece of that pie.”
At the same time, Bhutani pointed to the strong brand and dedicated focus of Expedia as one of its biggest competitive advantages. “If we are insanely focused on this, and we do it well, then it’s tough for a horizontal technology player” to compete effectively against the company, he said.
Bhutani, 39, grew up in Delhi, India, and traveled frequently as a young child. Although he was trained as a software engineer, his undergraduate degree from Delhi University is in economics, and he has an MBA from Lancaster University. He lives in the Seattle region with his extended family, including his wife and two children and his parents, in addition to his brother’s family. He worked at Washington Mutual and JP Morgan Chase before joining Expedia in 2010.
A champion of the Expedia culture, he shows his pride by wearing yellow running shoes with blue stripes, along with an Expedia lapel pin.
He literally got the engineering team to dance — teaching them a routine to Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” as a way of bringing them together and building camaraderie across their worldwide offices. The dance spread across the company, and even Khosrowshahi ended up joining in. Bhutani proudly showed off a video compilation during a recent interview at Expedia’s headquarters.
Another cultural change under Bhutani has been an intense focus on data and experimentation to drive decisions. He cites examples including a change to the Expedia.com home page over the past year, giving each vertical on the site (hotels, flights, cars, cruises, etc.) a specialized search wizard. The change required some big changes for the company’s partners and advertisers, but the testing showed that it was better for users, so they stuck with it.
“In an organization that doesn’t follow the scientific method, or ‘test and learn,’ people are going to debate, and ultimately the person that has the organizational or political power will force it differently,” he explained. “In our culture, there’s no need to debate it at all. The only question is to turn to the product and tech team, and say, ‘How long will it take to test? What’s the minimum test you could do?’ ”
With Bhutani’s promotion, the majority of Expedia Worldwide Engineering will now report to Tony Donohoe, who has been with Expedia for nearly 4 years, running the technology teams for Activities, Checkout, Media Solutions, Mobile, Packages, Reviews, Storefront, and other areas.