The incoming Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia, addressed the ride-hailing company in an all-hands meeting Wednesday at the company’s San Francisco headquarters.
Khosrowshahi, who starts next Tuesday, replaces the ousted leader and co-founder Travis Kalanick, who resigned following a string of controversies including allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and intellectual property theft.
The 48-year-old Iranian American will need to address cultural issues within the organization and restore confidence in the $69bn startup that was once the poster child for the gig economy.
“I’m a fighter … I will fight with every bone in my body,” said Khosrowshahi, addressing the packed room.
An emotional Travis Kalanick, who cried as staff gave him a standing ovation, described the last six months as the hardest of his life and admitted to making many mistakes before introducing Khosrowshahi to stage.
Arianna Huffington, an Uber board member who has become the public face of the company during its troubles of the last six months, quizzed Khosrowshahi in a fireside chat.
During the softball conversation, Khosrowshahi revealed that the experience of his family fleeing Iran for the US at the age of nine and “losing everything” had shaped him.
During the QA, Huffington reportedly revealed that Expedia’s chief financial officer, Mark Okerstrom, would also be joining Uber, but Khosrowshahi stopped her mid-sentence. It’s not clear whether she was misinformed or whether it was an appointment that hadn’t been made public yet.
Khosrowshahi said his priorities were to meet with the leadership team and fill the many management holes. Uber currently has vacancies for several key positions including a CFO (officially), chief operating officer, chief marketing officer, general counsel and senior vice-president of engineering.
When asked about when the company would go public, which would allow employees to cash out, Khosrowshahi said that it could be anywhere between 18 and 36 months.
Khosrowshahi was picked ahead of the former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and Meg Whitman, the chief executive of HP Enterprise, following a two-month search. He joined from Expedia which, according to a statement from Uber’s board, “he built into one of the world’s leading travel and technology companies”.
Khosrowshahi reportedly impressed the Uber board and Kalanick during a pitch last week, in which he included a slide in his presentation asking them to leave him alone to get on with his job. It read simply: “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
The Uber board has been in turmoil, with one major investor in the company, Benchmark Capital, suing Kalanick and accusing him of sabotaging the search for his replacement.
“Indeed, it has appeared at times as if the search was being manipulated to deter candidates and create a power vacuum in which Travis could return,” said Benchmark in an open letter to Uber employees.
In an email to Expedia staff, Khosrowshahi said he was “scared” and had “forgotten what life is outside of this place [Expedia]”.
“But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles – you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had,” he said.