Dara Khosrowshahi will have his work cut out for him as the CEO of Uber, assuming he accepts the top job. Now that the ridehailing giant has selected a new leader—10 weeks after Travis Kalanick resigned from the job under pressure from investors—attention is off the extensive CEO search and on what the newly selected chief can do for the company.
Khosrowshahi, who's been the CEO of online travel company Expedia for more than 12 years, is being called a "truce" pick for Uber's board, which was reportedly divided between higher-profile candidates Meg Whitman of HPE and Jeff Immelt of GE. As Khosrowshahi moves into the top spot at the embattled company, it would do him well to hold on to the truce mindset.
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Uber has been the subject of a number of scandals since the beginning of the year, including lawsuits and allegations of sexual harassment. If the new CEO can sort through the laundry list of issues without attracting more drama and while staying on the good side of its board and employees, the company could finally begin moving out of its rough patch.
We've put together a set of priorities for Khosrowshahi should he take on what is sure to be a tough job:
Appoint other top execs
The CEO spot isn't the only position that Uber's board has been looking to fill. Since the beginning of the year, several high-profile executives—including former president Jeff Jones and former finance head Gautam Gupta—have left the company. Among the most important positions to fill: COO and CFO. Khosrowshahi will need a right-hand person to help him put Uber back together, along with a financial heavyweight to help the $68 billion company move forward.
It may be smart for Uber to put a woman in one or both roles. Several commentators expected the company to name a female as CEO. The move likely would have helped its image in the wake of Susan Fowler's explosive February blog post, in which the former Uber engineer accused her onetime-employer of rampant sexism and harassment. Because Uber's CEO pick isn't female, the next best thing for the company is to make an effort to hire more women in high-profile roles. It already has a start, with the June appointments of Frances Frei as SVP of leadership and strategy and Bozoma Saint John (left) as chief brand officer.
Make cultural and business changes that will improve Uber's image
As Recode's Kara Swisher pointed out in April, when the scandals at Uber were really starting to pile on, the company doesn't have a PR problem. It has actual problems, going beyond a culture that's allowed leaders to sexually harass female employees with limited intervention from HR to also include the reported use of software to do things like spy on Lyft drivers and circumvent law enforcement. For more examples, check out our timeline of Uber's troubled year.
Khosrowshahi will have a cheat sheet when it comes to tackling his new company's problem. In June, Uber released a comprehensive list of recommendations from an internal investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. The remedial measures cover a range of topics, such as enhancing the board of directors' oversight, rethinking the company's official values, and reviewing employee benefits and policies. Uber has already implemented some changes (including the ouster of Kalanick and the launch of a tipping initiative for drivers), and Khosrowshahi will surely work from the Holder report as he begins his overhaul of the company.
Build out Uber's relationship with SoftBank
Since it was founded in 2009, Uber has pulled in more than $12 billion in VC funding and become the most valuable private company in the world. That's no small feat—but if Uber's going to continue growing its global ridehailing business and its self-driving technology unit, it needs even more financing.
Khosrowshahi is in a unique position to help. He's on the board of Fanatics, a sports-focused online retailer that recently pulled in $1 billion from the SoftBank Vision Fund. The Vision Fund is the biggest investment vehicle of all time, with $93 billion in its coffers, and it's been considering participating in a massive new round for Uber. Khosrowshahi's existing relationship with SoftBank could prove helpful to secure funding.
Stay focused on autonomous vehicle technology
Much of the attention on Uber's self-driving car efforts has been lasered in on the infamous Waymo lawsuit. Waymo, Google's self-driving technology arm, sued Uber earlier this year. The lawsuit alleges that one of its former engineers, Anthony Levandowski, stole thousands of confidential files before he left his job and brought them to Uber when the company acquired Otto, the self-driving truck startup he founded. With the acquisition, Levandowski became chief of Uber's autonomous vehicle program. The lawsuit is heading to trial and it's still attracting its fair share of publicity—but Levandowski has since been fired from Uber.
The company's new CEO is actually inheriting a relatively well-developed autonomous vehicle arm. Uber's Advanced Technology Center, based in Pittsburgh, has a reported 400 employees working on self-driving tech. As Kalanick pointed out in a Business Insider interview last year, a transportation company like Uber has to be involved in autonomous tech, or the future would pass it by. And although Uber's self-driving program has been dwarfed by the Waymo lawsuit, the company is working hard to develop autonomous technology, and it continues to do so.
Although Khosrowshahi does need to deal with the Waymo lawsuit, he can also rest assured that Uber is in a fairly good position in the self-driving vehicle arena, and it may be well on its way to owning a fleet of autonomous taxis. It would do him well to continue to invest time, resources and money in the company's Advanced Technology Center.
Make a few key acquisitions
Speaking of self-driving technology, Uber is in a position to build out its program by picking up some smaller companies. Although last year's acquisition of Otto is what sparked the eventual lawsuit, it's the type of strategic move Khosrowshahi should replicate.
In addition to considering startups with autonomous vehicle tech that could be valuable to Uber, Khosrowshahi is in a good position to acquire other types of transportation companies as well. He's an investor in Convoy, a VC-backed startup with a service that matches local truckers with companies to get products shipped efficiently. Although it's been reported that Khosrowshahi may have to divest his shares in Convoy due to Uber's competing freight service should he accept the job, it's clear he's savvy about transportation technology.
We'll be keeping a close eye on Uber as Khosrowshahi takes over the company. Check out our previous Uber coverage right here.
And for more on Dara Khosrowshahi, here's a detailed profile from TechCrunch.
Article by Dana Olsen, PitchBook