Uber investors hope Dara Khosrowshahi will unify fractured board


By Leslie Hook

Company enters third day of thrashing out terms for new chief executive

As Uber enters a third day of thrashing out the job terms for its new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, company executives and shareholders voiced hopes that, once appointed, he will be able to help unify a deeply fractured board.

Frances Frei, Uber’s senior vice-president for leadership and a member of the 14-person committee that has been running the company during the two-month search process for a new chief executive, said that people at Uber were “thrilled” with the board’s choice.

“I think the board has been in quite an emotional state, and I’m looking forward to Dara having a calming influence on everyone,” she said in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think it’s going to be terrific . . . He has both the humanity and the fierceness of performance that is precisely what we need.”

Uber has not officially confirmed his appointment, and Ms Frei said she was not involved in the chief executive discussions and had never met him. However, Mr Khosrowshahi, who is currently chief executive of Expedia, told reporters earlier on Tuesday that he is likely to accept the job as soon as his contract is ironed out.

The search process run by Uber’s board has been marred by boardroom drama, including a lawsuit in which Benchmark, a major investor, accuses former chief executive Travis Kalanick of fraud. Mr Kalanick denies those accusations.

The process has also been hit by frequent leaks — to the extent that Mr Khosrowshahi discovered he had been selected by reading about it on Recode, a tech news site, before he had been contacted by the Uber board.

One of the key questions facing the incoming chief executive is the future role of Mr Kalanick, who sits on the Uber board and wants to remain involved with the company, even though he was ousted by investors in June. The role of Mr Kalanick was a sticking point for some other candidates, such as veteran tech executive Meg Whitman, who insisted that the founder take a back seat.

One shareholder, Mitchell Green of Lead Edge Capital, a firm that owns shares in Uber, said he was optimistic about Mr Khosrowshahi’s appointment but also wanted to see Uber’s board bring in an independent chairman.

“I think the company should go get a killer chairman as well, to work with the board, to work with the CEO, to build good governance,” Mr Green said.

As to Mr Kalanick’s future role, he said: “I think Dara should be the CEO and Dara should decide to what degree he wants Travis to be involved.”

Many shareholders and employees are relieved that the chief executive search will soon be over and are optimistic about their potential new chief. “I hope he [Khosrowshahi] will just be a calm head of the ship,” said Mr Green. “I think there’s a ton of people that want to work for the guy . . . He has run a really big company, and I’m glad they picked someone who has run a really big company.”

Even amid this optimism, the challenges facing Uber’s next chief executive continued to mount on Tuesday, with news of a preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Uber confirmed that it was co-operating with the investigation. The DoJ did not respond to questions about the investigation, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Khosrowshahi made his first public remarks about what he sees ahead for Uber on Tuesday in interviews as part of an Expedia media day.

“It’s definitely the opportunity of a lifetime,” he told Bloomberg. “Are there difficulties? Are there complexities? Are there challenges? Absolutely, but that’s also what makes it fun.”

Mr Khosrowshahi was offered the job on Sunday after a unanimous vote by Uber’s board, beating other candidates including Jeff Immelt, former General Electric chief executive, and Meg Whitman, chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. But he has not yet accepted the offer.