Dara Khosrowshahi became Uber's CEO at the end of August, leaving his longtime job as head of Expedia to join the controversial unicorn startup. He replaced strong-willed, controversy-seeking co-founder Travis Kalanick. In the first month of his tenure, Khosrowshahi has made it clear he's the kind of successor who's not there to continue his predecessor's legacy. Here are eight things he did to set a new tone at Uber.
1. Showed some vulnerability
"I have to tell you I am scared," Khosrowshahi wrote in a note to Expedia staff, which Recode excerpted on August 29. He continued, "I've been here at Expedia for so long that I've forgotten what life is like outside this place. 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."
The admission of fear--even if he didn't know the note would be made public, and therefore visible to all his new employees as well--was the first sign that Khosrowshahi will shape a new kind of Uber. One with a softer touch and a little more sensitivity, to balance out the Kalanick era's hard-charging bravado.
2. Supported immigrants and opposed Trump
On September 5, Khosrowshahi joined the rest of Silicon Valley by expressing unambiguous support for "DREAMers," illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children:
Khosrowshahi himself is an immigrant. His family fled the turmoil of 1970s Iran and arrived in America with nothing, according to The New York Times. Khosrowshahi has criticized President Trump's job performance in the past. Predecessor Travis Kalanick took a lot of heat, both within and outside of Uber, for consulting with the Trump administration and failing to condemn its unpopular decisions quickly or loudly enough.
3. Stepped down from The New York Times board
Khosrowshahi left his position on The New York Times board of directors on September 7, "in light of his new role and increased responsibilities," as the SEC filing put it. He had originally joined in 2015. The move was not a snub, but it's worth noting that the Times has covered Uber's struggles closely, and Khosrowshahi's resignation removes a conflict of interest on both sides.
4. Pushed negotiations forward with SoftBank
Massive Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has been pouring money into American technology companies, and it wants a piece of Uber. But negotiating the investment has been tricky, given that Uber wants to keep its paper valuation of $70 billion, and that previous investors want to make sure they cash out at a high multiple.
Recode reported on September 11 that Khosrowshahi beginning to participate had a positive effect on the potential deal. Although no definite conclusion has been reached, it's another sign that Khosrowshahi is a break from Kalanick's baggage and bellicosity, which were widely believed to be holding the company back.
5. Emphasized diversity and inclusion
The diversity of Uber's work force--or rather, lack thereof--and the treatment of women and minorities who work at the company, has been among the most contentious issues plaguing Uber's public image. Riders and drivers may be oblivious, but Silicon Valley startups live and die on recruiting. No one wants to work at a company that will make their résumé radioactive.
In light of this history, Khosrowshahi made a point of demonstrating his commitment to diversity and inclusion:
Khosrowshahi's tweet is blatant pandering, of course, but pandering lands better when it comes from an immigrant of color who has almost assuredly faced prejudice and discrimination himself. To employees, Khosrowshahi's outspokenness may feel more like strategically timed sincerity than pure corporate signaling.
"In all my conversations with [Khosrowshahi], he has been extremely supportive that we continue to build on the great culture work we've already done," Uber HR chief Liane Hornsey told Phys.org on Monday. "It's absolutely top of mind for him. I know he is particularly passionate about creating a diverse and inclusive workplace for everyone. I'm confident positive cultural change is more possible than ever." She added, "Culture change usually takes 18 months to two years. I think it's going be quicker here. A lot of people are saying to me 'I can feel the change.'"
6. Offered free rides in Mexico
After an earthquake rocked Mexico, Uber offered free rides and donated 5 million pesos (the equivalent of almost $275,000) to the Mexican Red Cross:
The gestures of goodwill keep piling up! This type of move wasn't new--Uber, like most prominent tech companies, has made similar donations in the past. But just as conspicuous statements about diversity and inclusion will come across better now, donating to areas suffering from catastrophes is a little more image-friendly when the CEO's personal image makes it seem like the decision wasn't, well, all about image.
7. Apologized to London and headed across the pond to work it out
Near the end of September, authorities in London decided to ban Uber. Khosrowshahi promptly issued a contrite open letter. He wrote, "While Uber has revolutionised the way people move in cities around the world, it's equally true that we've got things wrong along the way. On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we've made." He even used British spelling to make his words that much sweeter.
He promised, "We won't be perfect but we will listen to you; we will look to be long term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity and passion." Skeptics might say that humility and integrity will be new tools in Uber's arsenal.
According to CNBC, "London's transport regulator holds that Uber failed to meet regulatory requirements in regard to reporting serious criminal offences involving its drivers, obtaining checks on its drivers, and using a software tool known as Greyball, which allegedly allowed it to block regulators from gaining full access to the app."
In an email to employees, obtained by Mike Isaac of The New York Times, Khosrowshahi once again showed that he understands the need to rehabilitate Uber. "While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I've learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection," he wrote. "The truth is there is a high cost to bad reputation." Khosrowshahi emphasized that "it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another."
On Monday, Khosrowshahi boarded a plane to London to work out the mess.
8. Condemned Kalanick's wild-card behavior
Former CEO Travis Kalanick appointed two new board members out of the blue on September 29. Khosrowshahi wrote a note to employees calling it "disappointing news" and "highly unusual," according to Recode. Khosrowshahi has consistently showed in his first month that he's a different man from Kalanick, with a very different style of operating a company. If we didn't already know that from his decade-plus at Expedia, we'd certainly know it from Khosrowshahi's first month as Uber CEO.