During his 12-year tenure as the public face of Expedia, Dara Khosrowshahi has been vocal about what makes for great leadership, how he’s navigated the company through challenges, and his ambitions for the future.
He shared his perspective with GeekWire during the 2016 GeekWire Summit and a podcast recorded at Expedia’s Bellevue, Wash. headquarters on the company’s 20th birthday last year. Now Khosrowshahi will apply his leadership style and lessons learned to his next job as the new CEO of Uber, steering the company through upheaval and growth.
Previously: Meet Uber’s choice for CEO: Expedia chief brings ‘internal calm’ and experience with big personalities
Khosrowshahi has a vast well of experience to draw from, leading Expedia through a several blockbuster acquisitions, periods of uncertainty during the Great Recession, and rapid growth.
We compiled some of Khosrowshahi’s most telling comments, from our interviews with him, to understand what Uber might look like under his leadership. Continue reading for his edited remarks and watch the GeekWire Summit fireside chat and listen to the podcast below.
On keeping a company innovative: “The key is for us to organize in different units that are separate, that do their own thing and can remain entrepreneurial. We’re a lot of brands that came together through mergers and acquisitions and integration and M&A and innovation are not friends. The two don’t go well together and when we first brought in all these brands we tried to integrate them all into one core architecture in order to get lots of economics out of these deals, where we paid a lot of money for those deals. That turned out to be a mistake because it stifled innovation. It required lots of people to have lots of meetings before they did anything. And then we wizened up and essentially rebuilt our architecture from the ground up, it took hundreds of millions of dollars. I still remember going to our board of directors and I said, ‘I need a couple of hundred million dollars and I don’t know what the return is but I think it’s a good thing to do.’ That was not a fun meeting. But as we rebuilt the architecture, we architected the company so that Hotels.com and Expedia and Trivago and HomeAway, etc., are run quite independently.:
“I think the biggest challenge for us at this point is to keep the innovation and keep the speed up. As companies get bigger, they tend to slow down. It’s a universal law. Our response has been to keep breaking up the company. We have all these independent units all these independent brands that are doing their own thing. They don’t have to come to me to ask for permission to do something. They just do it. And as you get bigger, bureaucracy takes over and you slow down. We’ve got to fight it and we’ve got to fight it actively.”
On managing employees and creating company culture: “Employee growth has been faster than we ever imagined and we’re always catching up to our real estate footprint. And I think the way that you manage it is is you put the right people in the right places and then you trust them to do the right stuff. It requires a very strong core culture and our core culture is one about being different it’s about valuing the employee and then trusting them to do the right thing for the company and so far it’s worked for us. But honestly, you know getting to 20,000 employees, getting to 30,000 employees and making sure that this is still a wonderful place to work where the individual can make a difference, where the individual can be the best person that they can be, that’s a real challenge and it will continue to be a real challenge for us.”
On navigating crisis: “We certainly had a big loss in 2008 but we leaned forward through that period. And one of the things that that Barry Diller, who is our chairman, always says is you want to have a company that can have a balance sheet, kind of this lock, stock, and barrel strong balance sheet that allows you to lean forward during periods of uncertainty because when everyone else is pulling back, if you lean forward, that’s when you gain share. And that’s certainly the experience that we had in 2008/2009.”
On leadership: “One of the early lessons that I learned in leadership is that it’s the leaders job to always go against the flow. And I think sometimes leaders get this wrong which is when things are bad and you know one of your teams is having a tough time. They know they’re having a tough time. They don’t need you to go out there and say, ‘you know your results are crap what the hell are you going to do about it?’ They actually need you to lift them up.”
“As a manager you’ve got to go against the flow. So in 2008/2009 we kept saying, the drumbeat was, ‘the world is crazy. People are still going to travel. Travel isn’t going to end. We’re going to be fine. We’ve got an incredible balance sheet. Push, push, push, focus and by the way you’re going to have a job. Don’t worry about your job.’ And so we constantly go against and when things are good we actually push down. You know it’s very tempting as a manager when things are great to say, ‘hey you’re doing amazingly well. Don’t worry about a thing.’ ”
“Those are times when I’m tougher on the team, when I tell my team to be tougher on their team when things are great because when things are great is when you loosen up; when you lose discipline; when you let things go; when you’re not as demanding on yourself or your team as you should be. But when things are tough you know as long as you believe in your team and you believe in your strategy that’s when you go against and say, ‘you know what? Things are fine. We’re going to push. We’re going to grow. Keep going.'”
On diversity and global ambitions: “It’s really important for us to be global in nature and to be open to diverse kinds of backgrounds and cultures. It’s important for us commercially because we want to expand outside the U.S. About two thirds of our businesses is in the U.S., one third of our businesses are international. We want to grow there but it also allows us to attract a really diverse employee populace and that is an incredibly important asset for us because we don’t own hotels. We don’t fly planes. The only asset we have is people. And I think we’ve been able to attract a pretty diverse employee group and it really serves us.”
On his perspective as an immigrant: “I think from a personal standpoint, maybe I appreciate a little more that there are two sides to every story and the way that the U.S. is sometimes viewed outside of the U.S. can be pretty tough, depending on the U.S.’s actions. There’s a lot of distrust of the United States and I certainly see that. But at the same time, everything that I’ve seen is that the U.S. is a genuine force for good in the world.”