Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will be Uber’s next chief executive, taking the wheel of the embattled ride-hailing company after more than 12 years leading the Bellevue, Wash.-based travel giant.
Khosrowshahi’s surprise selection was reported this evening by the New York Times and Recode, citing anonymous people familiar with the decision by Uber’s board. Uber has yet to make an official announcement. Khosrowshahi will be charged with turning around Uber’s reputation and direction following a series of scandals under Travis Kalanick, the previous Uber CEO.
During his tenure as CEO of the travel conglomerate, Khosrowshahi has overseen a revitalization and dramatic expansion of Expedia’s business, which began more than 21 years ago as a small Microsoft division.
Expedia Inc. has been on an aggressive acquisition spree in recent years, gobbling up brands including Travelocity, Trivago and Orbitz to complement its flagship Expedia travel brand. Expedia also acquired HomeAway for $3.9 billion to more aggressively compete with Airbnb, like Uber an icon of the sharing economy.
Shares of Expedia are up more than 34 percent over the past year, and the company topped $8.7 billion in revenue in 2016, up from $6.7 billion the year before. The company posted $2.6 billion in revenue in the second quarter, up 18 percent, boosted by strong results from its Hotels.com and HomeAway operations.
Despite his success at Expedia, Khosrowshahi is a surprising selection as Uber CEO. Names floated during the process included Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and former General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who reportedly withdrew from consideration.
A GeekWire source noted that Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark wanted Whitman, while Kalanick pushed for Immelt. The 48-year-old Khosrowshahi emerged as the candidate both sides could agree on.
It’s also worth noting that Rich Barton — who co-founded Expedia and previously served as the company’s CEO — is a venture partner at Benchmark.
Uber has been in a whirlwind of controversy that started in February after a blog post from former engineer Susan Fowler describing harassment and sexual discrimination at the company. That led to an investigation into Uber’s culture by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and departure of Uber co-founder and ex-CEO Kalanick in June.
The San Francisco-based company has been without a CEO since. Several top execs have also left in recent months; the company is without a COO, CFO, or CMO.
Seattle area angel investor Hadi Partovi, an early backer of Uber who is Khosrowshahi’s cousin, said that Khosrowshahi is “an amazing tech leader” who will be able to manage the internal discord and manage the international regulatory battles that face Uber.
“Dara is a well-loved leader and statesman, he is perfect for the role,” said Partovi. “He has worked for a demanding boss — Barry Diller — for decades and can manage working under the controversial Uber board dynamics.” As an Uber investor, Partovi added that he “couldn’t be more pleased for my investment.”
Apart from overhauling Uber’s culture, Khosrowshahi will be charged with expanding the company’s business and navigating a difficult regulatory environment in cities around the world. According to an Axios report, Uber’s revenue reached $1.75 billion in the most recent quarter, up 17 percent, with a $645 million loss. The company, founded in 2009, has raised more than $12 billion in funding.
In a 2016 podcast interview with GeekWire, he talked candidly about how Airbnb reshaped the lodging industry and forced Expedia to look at the market differently.
He said, “I think the growth of Airbnb has been pretty extraordinary and I think anyone who would say today, that, ‘Oh, we expected it,’ would be lying, maybe other than Brian (Chesky) the founder of Airbnb. We are very much focused on alternative lodging as a category. Not so much as the sharing economy. We’re about people wanting to go on vacations; we’re not necessarily about couch surfing.”
Khosrowshahi also has experience in the sharing economy and transportation industries as an investor in on-demand trucking startup Convoy, a Seattle-based startup. His only references to Uber on Twitter have been about Convoy, and also this 2015 tweet.
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) January 28, 2015
A native of Iran, Khosrowshahi grew up in Tehran and came to the United States with his family as a 9-year-old during the Iranian Revolution. He has been an outspoken critic of Trump administration policies, including the president’s executive order restricting travel into the country.
In February, Khosrowshahi ended an Expedia earnings call with the comment, “Hopefully, we will all be alive to see the end of next year.” He’s a board member of The New York Times and Fanatics.
So what’s next for Expedia? Or more specifically, who’s next? Barry Diller, the Expedia chairman, will no doubt cast a wide net on behalf of the company as part of its CEO search. However, the travel industry observer Rafat Ali, the founder and editor of travel news site Skift, says there’s a logical candidate if the company choses to find its next leader internally.
My guess IF an internal candidate, then John Kim, current CEO of HomeAway, will be new CEO of Expedia Inc.
— Rafat Ali (@rafat) August 28, 2017
Meanwhile, Axios reports that Expedia CFO Mark Okerstrom is likely to take over the CEO role.
In addition to taking the travel giant to the next stage of its evolution, Expedia’s next CEO will be taking on a big project: the company’s headquarters move from downtown Bellevue to the Seattle waterfront, scheduled to take place in 2019.
For the record, it’s pronounced “cause-row-shaw-hee.” We’ve contacted Expedia and Uber for comment.
Watch our interview with Khosrowshahi at the 2016 GeekWire Summit below.