Maureen Dowd Interviews Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

by Msnbctv news staff


LANGLEY, Wash. — I used to be simply chopping right into a juicy piece of steak that the chief govt of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, had grilled and plopped onto my plate, when certainly one of his 8-year-old twin boys requested me: “Who was your worst interview and who was your finest?”

I replied that Kevin Costner was certainly one of my least favourite, as a result of he was on the top of his fame and performing very sniffy. And Tom Ford and Elon Musk had been two of probably the most enjoyable, as a result of I get pleasure from writing about operatic characters with out-of-this-world proclivities.

Mr. Khosrowshahi’s spouse, Sydney Shapiro, regarded throughout the kitchen desk at her husband with a sultry Lauren Bacall smile. “It’s good to up your eccentricity,” she mentioned teasingly.

He regarded again at her, amused.

His 16-year-old son jumped in with an help. “My dad’s a lizard individual,’’ he mentioned. {The teenager} mentioned he had discovered a random publish on the web a couple of conspiracy principle contending that his father, Queen Elizabeth, George W. Bush and Bob Hope are all lizard individuals. “They’re reptilian aliens that may form shift and management the world,” he defined. “Simply know that in case you pour water on him, he’ll soften. If he will get aggressive, don’t transfer. He can solely see you in case you’re transferring.”

Truly Mr. Khosrowshahi, 52, is weirdly regular for Silicon Valley. He’s not rising a Neanderthal beard, dwelling off salt juice or summering in outer house, however slightly bucolic Whidbey Island, a short ferry journey from Seattle.

In 2017, he left Expedia, the place he had quintupled income in a dozen years, to take over Uber from Travis Kalanick, whose title turned synonymous with overly aggressive enterprise strikes and the gnarly bro excesses of Silicon Valley.

“My dad’s recommendation was, ‘If an organization that’s a verb gives you a job, say sure,’” he recalled.

Taking up one of many worst cleanup jobs within the historical past of American capitalism, at some of the loathed corporations, Mr. Khosrowshahi was like a dad who needed to mop up after the frat get together, put all of the Solo cups away and get the vomit off the marble flooring.

“He got here right into a nightmare,” mentioned Barry Diller, who, juggling calls from his yacht, helped him nab the job after “the horrible board” deadlocked between Meg Whitman and Jeff Immelt.

Mr. Diller mentioned his protégé has had “a depressing yr or two,” slammed by Covid, however that “Dara is a superb govt. And Uber is a superb enterprise — ultimately.”

In his 2019 ebook, “Tremendous Pumped: The Battle for Uber” (quickly to be a Showtime drama by the “Billions” crew), the New York Occasions reporter Mike Isaac wrote: “For some, there stays a lingering, persistent concern: Is Uber below Dara Khosrowshahi nonetheless going to swing for the fences? Or has Uber misplaced its urge for food for moonshots and world domination — the alluring, Travis-like quests that attracted them to the corporate within the first place?”

Can this rational, charming chief with out the sting, ego or cult following of wacky founders achieve immediately’s insane economic system? Does the unbelievable shrinking kingdom of Uber nonetheless dream huge?

“Proper now, I dream about pushing a button and getting a piano delivered to your house in an hour and a half,’’ Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned. “I believe that’d be actually cool.”

He continued: “We’ll maintain engaged on go-and-get. Wherever you wish to go, something you wish to get, nonetheless you wish to get it, we’ll be there for you.”

Is the period of mercurial jerk geniuses coming again?

“I don’t assume that traders essentially love them by some means,’’ he mentioned, sipping a glass of California cabernet sauvignon, his Dutch shepherd, Loki, curled at his toes. “I believe the press does and the Twitter-sphere does. However I believe traders like returns.”

The poisonous Travis tradition is gone however nobody appears positive of what the Dara tradition is. Does he fear that this isn’t as horny an organization anymore so far as attracting traders and expertise?

“My aim in life is to not construct probably the most horny firm,” he mentioned. “It’s to construct the most effective firm.”

Mr. Kalanick undermined his successor in the beginning, in line with Uber insiders, however Mr. Khosrowshahi finessed the founder slowly out of the enterprise. The Kalanick crowd didn’t make it simple on “the mathematics man,” as some name him, with efforts to divide the corporate into Travis individuals and Dara individuals and whispers that the brand new boss was not on board with Travis’s mantra of BIGGER! FASTER!

“I don’t know what Travis was doing,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned, in his deep, even voice. “Actually, I didn’t spend a number of time figuring it out. With me, he was typically useful. Then he received out. He separated from the corporate, and I believe that was a high quality factor to do.

“We work with him at Uber Eats and that’s high quality,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned. (Mr. Kalanick has a brand new start-up, CloudKitchens, which rents business house and turns it into shared kitchens for meals supply companies.) “I’ll take Travis’s facet for a minute, which is, I needed to are available and be very clear that the corporate was not his. I needed to be extra forceful due to the place we got here from. I can fully think about that hurting, as a result of he’d constructed the corporate. I’m not essentially defending him, however I perceive how it might be robust for him. This was his life.”

Andrew Macdonald, the senior vp of mobility for Uber, who has labored for each bosses, praised Mr. Khosrowshahi for altering “our tradition values to do the correct factor.”

“Are we as combative as we had been seven, eight years in the past? No,” Mr. Macdonald mentioned. “Will Dara combat and push and take points all the best way for what he believes in? Sure. Travis was a very ferocious competitor. However the firm undoubtedly had blind spots in consequence.”

Mr. Khosrowshahi had gotten via the Kalanick mop-up, the apology tour world wide, a shaky opening I.P.O. day and the cutting down, and the corporate was on its strategy to profitability. Then, the pandemic. He needed to lay off 25 % of his work drive. Who needed to get in a automotive with a stranger, even when there have been wherever to go?

“When coronavirus hit, we pulled again fairly aggressively,” he mentioned. “We received out of some companies. There are particular instances the place you ought to be conservative. And there are specific instances the place you go for it.”

He mentioned he “didn’t have sufficient time to be depressed or to really feel sorry.” As he was frantically attempting to determine if the corporate — already dropping billions — may survive dropping, in some locations, 85 % of its rides enterprise, he found “a glimmer transferring quick”: Uber Eats, an arm of the enterprise he had been pouring cash into for the earlier two years, regardless of many traders being sad about it.

“After I joined, Eats was a $2.5 billion enterprise,” he mentioned. “We’re going to be over $50 billion now. Eats on a quantity foundation goes to be larger than Rides mainly as a result of with Eats, we’re going to go to grocery and we’re going to the pharmacy and we’re going to each single native commerce class. It’s a much bigger market.”

It hit him, he mentioned, that each one the companies he had been shedding — scooters, electrical bikes, autonomous automobiles, flying automobiles — “had been a distraction to the mission. Persons are going to begin transferring once more and this enterprise — get something and every thing that you really want in your own home — was going to be larger than any of us thought it was going to be.”

Just a few weeks in the past, Mr. Khosrowshahi rode a motorcycle, delivering for Uber Eats in San Francisco for 2 days.

“I used to be nervous at first,” he mentioned, including that a few of it was enjoyable and a few of it was tough. “I practically received killed delivering close to the baseball park. The Giants sport was beginning, and site visitors was nuts. My speculation is that somebody knew that I’m a Mets fan.”

Across the time of Uber’s I.P.O. in 2019, Mr. Khosrowshahi instructed that the corporate could possibly be the Amazon of transportation. Has that dream dimmed?

“I believe we’re neighbors at this level and we’ll look over the fence and wave at them and perhaps they’ll discover us waving, perhaps they received’t,’’ he mentioned. “However I believe our home goes to get larger.”

Now that elements of the world are again to calling for rides once more, they’re all of the sudden far more costly — 40 % extra, in line with one estimate — and, due to Uber, there are far fewer taxis.

“It’s not the place it must be proper now,” Mr. Khosrowshahi conceded.

He mentioned the corporate is “leaning in and investing super-aggressively to bringing drivers again. We advised traders, we’re going to harm our margins within the second quarter doing so.” He predicted that by September, costs will return “to just about the great previous days,” adjusted for inflation.

Some analysts observe that Uber’s ride-sharing enterprise appears to have an existential drawback; wouldn’t its authentic enterprise mannequin solely work if it used billions to subsidize the price of rides till the transition to self-driving automobiles? However a driverless future is a good distance off. Doesn’t Uber both need to cost much more for the rides or discover some strategy to pay the drivers even much less? Isn’t this essentially at odds with treating employees humanely?

Mr. Khosrowshahi demurred, saying that Proposition 22, a poll measure in California that permits gig economic system corporations to maintain treating drivers as unbiased contractors, by no means may have handed “within the bluest of blue states” except a number of drivers supported it. He mentioned that a couple of yr in the past, he determined to focus not solely on drivers’ independence but in addition on good pay.

Scott Galloway, a professor of selling at New York College’s Stern College of Enterprise, compares the Uber chief to Sheryl Sandberg, “the gorgeous face” that obscures the injury their companies are doing to society.

“That’s the primary time I’ve been referred to as a fairly face,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned wryly, earlier than permitting: “Our system doesn’t work for a sure proportion of drivers who can’t determine it out, who can’t perceive the best way to make it work. I do assume that for that proportion — and it’s most likely 10 % of our drivers however whenever you’re speaking about 10 % of one million drivers on the street — that’s lots of people who wish to earn and our system isn’t working correctly for. I do assume that now we have to construct higher safeguards for individuals who can’t make our system fairly work the best way that they wish to work, or we’re keen to work with regulators to have sure safeguards like minimal earnings.”

In 1979, when Dara was 9, his Muslim household fled Iran to flee the revolution, leaving the fortune that they had made out of their massive pharmaceutical and cosmetics firm. They moved to an uncle’s mansion in Irvington, N.Y., for a few months earlier than getting a condominium in Tarrytown.

As soon as, his mom, Lili, had shopped in Paris at Dior, Saint Laurent and Celine. Now she needed to go to work on the Madison Avenue Celine. As soon as, she had had a prepare dinner, two gardeners, a driver and a babysitter for every baby; now the lady who had by no means set foot in a kitchen turned her personal prepare dinner.

She was laser centered on sending her sons to a very good prep college, the Hackley College, in Tarrytown. Dara’s soccer and math expertise made assimilation simple.

When his father returned to Iran to attempt to get his personal father out, he was not allowed to go away the nation for 5 years and missed Dara’s highschool commencement. The businessman Herbert Allen Jr., whose sons had been college pals with the Khosrowshahi boys, took the household below his wing.

“This man was an angel,” Lili mentioned. “He took them on non-public planes, on the most effective journeys ever, for summer time holidays and snowboarding.”

Lili taught Dara to remain humble. He prefers giving his crew credit score to swanning. After George Floyd’s homicide, he choked up in an all-hands assembly.

“My dad carries with him a little bit of female vitality that he discovered from his mom,” mentioned his daughter, Chloe, 20, a scholar at Brown College, her father’s alma mater. “He’s daring, however in his personal method, a much less apparent method. He permits different individuals’s voices to fill the room.”

Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned merely, “I simply grew up in a circumstance the place getting alongside was the best way to outlive.” (He’s not non secular however is fascinated by non secular narratives.)

Tony West, the chief authorized officer of Uber, mentioned that Mr. Khosrowshahi is keen to tackle authorized danger to repair the Uber office. “We not have compelled arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Mr. West mentioned, including that, in these instances, “We not use confidentiality agreements.”

Would Mr. Khosrowshahi need certainly one of his personal kids to drive for Uber?

Sure, he mentioned, however he would need them “to ultimately have a full-time job, work in a technical area. I believe really a few of the applications that we’re having now are to offer a bridge” to grow to be a coder or salesperson at Uber or to get a free schooling. (The corporate has an association with Arizona State College on-line to cowl tuition for drivers.)

He’s extra laissez-faire about returning to the workplace than Jamie Dimon, who just lately advised The Wall Avenue Journal, “Folks don’t like commuting, however so what?”

Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned that as a result of Uber is a mixture of the digital world and the true world — “the true world that punches you within the face on a regular basis with its unpredictability” — his tech challenges are completely different than a web site for ordering motion pictures.

“The know-how that must be constructed to have that hamburger present up in half-hour, assured, is spectacular,” he mentioned. “If there’s a genius coder who’s happier coding from Colorado and may come into the workplace every so often to get to know his colleagues, it’s cool.”

Disruption, as soon as the mantra of Silicon Valley, has now grow to be a grimy phrase. What are the moral boundaries of disruption?

“I do assume there’s energy in a reputation,” he mentioned. “Our system known as capitalism. It’s designed to optimize for long-term progress of capital. When individuals marvel, ‘Effectively, are capital homeowners advantaged over labor?,’ it ain’t referred to as laborism.”

However he mused that typically the system “works too properly”: “I believe capitalism has its claws in our democratic societies in ways in which has allowed it to overly optimize for its profit.”

Washington is taking a decidedly darker view of Silicon Valley. President Biden named Lina Khan, a fan of ratcheting up rules on tech giants, because the chairwoman of the Federal Commerce Fee and signed an govt order zeroing in on anticompetitive practices.

Pete Buttigieg, who joined a protest exterior Uber’s headquarters in 2019, now leads the Division of Transportation. Marty Walsh, who fought Uber as mayor of Boston, now leads the Division of Labor; in April, he talked about the necessity to reclassify some gig employees as workers.

Whereas noting that “our regulatory sandbox is rather more metropolis and state than it’s federal,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned that this tech-lash is inevitable.

“I believe, identical to Uber, a few of them grew up too quick and a few of them didn’t take duty for his or her energy and I believe now they’re being referred to as to reckon, and I believe it’ll finally lead to a greater, extra balanced society going ahead,” he mentioned. “My hope is, it doesn’t destroy what we constructed.

“Generally the emotional takes over and I believe that’s harmful however I believe the age of ‘I constructed a platform, I’m not accountable,’ that point is over. And now the query is, what does the duty seem like? Defining it and placing guard rails round it, I believe that’s a wholesome factor.”

Is he apprehensive that ProPublica, which just lately revealed that many prime chief executives pay little or no taxes, has his tax data?

“I believe that they may have much less of an issue with my tax document,” he mentioned. “I believe there are actual points which might be being raised there.” Whereas he doesn’t blame different chief executives for following the legislation and attempting to save cash, he calls the tax system a “monster.”

“There are always these attorneys knocking on my door to construct these loopy trusts and all that,” he mentioned. “Generally I really feel like an fool not answering. I’m the dope who’s not doing all these items. But it surely’s simply not what I wish to be spending my time on.”

Do the captains of the cloud and business making obscene gobs of dough deserve it?

“I believe in case you outline equity by ‘honest market worth,’ then C.E.O.s are paid pretty,” he mentioned. “I believe in case you outline equity by the way you assume society ought to worth individuals, then I believe C.E.O.s are paid an excessive amount of. You possibly can put me in that group. The system, the best way it’s designed with these compensation consultants, creates a considerably inflationary atmosphere. Each single comp committee needs to pay their C.E.O. on the sixtieth to seventy fifth percentile, as a result of nobody ever needs a mean C.E.O., God assist us.”

What did he be taught from the fallout after he downplayed the Khashoggi execution by Saudi leaders, who’re main shareholders in Uber, as “a severe mistake?”

“I discovered to not make excuses,” he mentioned flatly.

Does he take note of politics in Iran, with that nation nonetheless within the clutches of zealots?

“I believe that it’s a disgrace that Iran is so reduce off from america,” he mentioned. “I believe there’s some unlucky historical past there. The Iranian tradition is extra historical than the Islamic faith. It’s a deep tradition, and there’s an innate love that Iranians have for American tradition and People. I’m hoping that that connection can come again once more.”

He jokes that he and his spouse have discovered an answer for peace within the Center East. She has his title tattooed in Farsi on her wrist, and he has her title tattooed in Hebrew on the again of his neck. He visits Twitter twice a day, and Instagram at evening — to coronary heart his spouse’s posts.

I ask about their impromptu marriage ceremony within the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas.

“I had the brilliant concept,” he mentioned. “I needed to get married. I needed it to final, as a result of it was my second marriage and I’m head over heels in love with Syd. I mentioned ‘Let’s get married on 12-12-12.’ It’s a fortunate day. We went to Las Vegas to get married. It was us and about 10,000 Chinese language individuals trying to get married as a result of it’s a really, very fortunate day there.”

The 2 had been mounted up by Sydney’s mom and the mom of certainly one of Dara’s good friend who had been a part of a “Jewish moms’ courting community,” as he put it.

“She thought he was a C.E.O. egomaniac however that she’d get a free dinner,” Chloe, certainly one of two kids from Mr. Khosrowshahi’s first marriage, advised me later.

Ms. Shapiro, 43, wearing a black linen prime and pants and absently braiding and unbraiding her lengthy blond hair, mentioned of her mom: “She was apprehensive as a result of I graduated faculty after which I needed to go work on a farm in Costa Rica after which I went to Ozzfest as a photographer’s assistant and she or he was like, ‘It’s good to cool down.’ I couldn’t have imagined having something in widespread with a C.E.O. No.”

Mr. Khosrowshahi laughed, noting, “Her mother nonetheless can’t say my title proper.” (Say it like this: DAR-uh Koz-row-SHA-hee.)

After that they had been courting awhile, Ms. Shapiro advised him that he ought to go do the C.E.O. factor and date a flock of supermodels after which, when he needed to cool down, come again.

“He had simply gotten divorced,” she mentioned. “He got here again, although.” He calls her “Shapiro”; she calls him “dude.”

Chloe mentioned that the person often known as a “Dad” in Silicon Valley takes the position simply as critically at dwelling.

When she was little, her father — a fan of Joseph Campbell, Greek myths, sci-fi and George R.R. Martin — would concoct kids’s tales set in faraway kingdoms with magical wishing flowers and golden owls that might cease time.

When Chloe broke the information final yr that she was, as she dryly put it, “an Iranian lesbian,” he gave her a fist bump and advised her, “It’s the most effective time on this planet to be homosexual.”

The household has a extra formal dwelling in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, town the place Uber’s headquarters are. However Whidbey is their “completely satisfied place.” And life on the little island appears fairly candy (even when, or maybe as a result of, you may’t hail an Uber right here). Their brown shingled home has the texture of a fairy story cottage, nestled in an enchanted-looking woods. Mr. Khosrowshahi has a sport room, the place he performs board video games and card video games along with his sons, and he put in a funicular that goes right down to the rocky seaside on the Puget Sound, which is often too chilly for swimming.

Requested how he maintained his preternatural steadiness within the face of the cascading woes of the previous few years, he gestured towards his dwelling and household.

“I’ll at all times have this,” he mentioned. “I believe Uber is icing on the cake. It’s a giant cake and I would like it to be actually tasty.”

Maureen Dowd: Travis Kalanick is crazier than Travis Bickle.

Dara Khosrowshahi: Who’s Travis Bickle?

Travis sends you emoji-laden texts.

Unhappy face.

You just like the casting selections for Showtime’s forthcoming “Tremendous Pumped” present about Uber.

Provided that Daniel Day-Lewis performs me.

The Lyft co-founders are too good.

I don’t assume they’re good in any respect.

You’re keen on “Dying Cab for Cutie.”

In the correct pensive second, completely.

You’d smoke a blunt on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

Is determined by the hour.

You consider in aliens.

Not till I see proof of them.

In faculty, you launched your self as “Darren Kay” since you apprehensive that nobody may pronounce your title, however then you definitely stopped utilizing it since you apprehensive that it seemed like a porn title.

Verify. These had been darkish days.

Like many a cougar, you get pleasure from William White’s TikTok movies, wherein the 21-year-old sings ’80s songs.

I do know this makes me actually uncool, however I’ve not gone into TikTok but.

Uber plans on letting individuals pay for his or her rides with Bitcoin.

I simply don’t see it. Deny.

Raistlin Majere is your favourite Dungeons & Dragons character.

I like Dungeons & Dragons, however I don’t know that character.

You wooed your spouse over World of Warcraft.

She was an evening elf, she performed it as soon as, and she or he nonetheless cherished me afterwards. Which is a really sturdy assertion.

Your spouse wore a Slayer T-shirt to your Vegas marriage ceremony.

And she or he regarded good.

You determined to go away Expedia as soon as Barry Diller made Joey Levin the chief govt of IAC.

Had nothing to do with that.

While you received the Uber job, your daughter came upon through a New York Occasions push notification.

Completely true. The Occasions beat me to the punch.



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