Outgoing Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called leaving the online travel company to take over as Uber CEO one of the toughest decisions of his life this week. His words in an email to employees had us remembering another tough call, and one that Khosrowshahi himself wrote about back in 2015.
After the Seattle Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll shocked the sports world in Super Bowl XLIX, by attempting a pass at the goal line instead of running Marshawn Lynch for a chance to beat the New England Patriots, Khosrowshahi, like many fans, woke up the next morning and tried to make sense of it all.
In a post on LinkedIn, the longtime Expedia CEO used the depressing loss (at least in the Pacific Northwest) as a teachable moment, relating to Carroll as a CEO, and saying, “We have all had to make those hard calls that don’t work out the way we envisioned.” But moving the ball forward, Khosrowshahi said the game and Carroll provided lessons in leadership.
Khosrowshahi said that by deciding to throw the ball from the half-yard line (ugh) instead of punching it in Beast Mode style for the win, Carroll was proving himself to be a great leader by taking an unexpected, smart, calculated, seemingly dangerous risk — much like business leaders sometimes need to do. Two and half years of coping — and leaving the room during TV replays of the game — may make it easier for Seahawks fans to make sense of that sentiment.
While failing fast and often may be a popular refrain in the tech startup world, it seems odd to relate it to NFL football, where head coaches are more often than not given very little time to prove they can build a winner.
But Khosrowshahi said the game of inches he played in e-commerce at Expedia translated to real money. “We’ve learned that if we change one pixel, one field, one color, we can move the business by a half a percent,” he wrote.
On the morning after that difficult loss, Khosrowshahi hoped that the Seahawks realized that by taking risks, Carroll was proving to his players that they are stronger because of it, and that he would take responsibility when things didn’t work out.
Going forward at Uber, a company facing its own share of challenges, it’ll be worth watching to see whether Khosrowshahi can win the trust of a new team, and stay in the game through the good calls and bad.