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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Maureen Dowd Interviews Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

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

I replied that Kevin Costner was one among 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 take pleasure in writing about operatic characters with out-of-this-world proclivities.

Mr. Khosrowshahi’s spouse, Sydney Shapiro, appeared throughout the kitchen desk at her husband with a sultry Lauren Bacall smile. “You could up your eccentricity,” she stated teasingly.

He appeared again at her, amused.

His 16-year-old son jumped in with an help. “My dad’s a lizard particular person,’’ he stated. {The teenager} stated he had discovered a random put up on the web a few 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 for those who pour water on him, he’ll soften. If he will get aggressive, don’t transfer. He can solely see you for those who’re shifting.”

Really Mr. Khosrowshahi, 52, is weirdly regular for Silicon Valley. He’s not rising a Neanderthal beard, residing off salt juice or summering in outer area, however moderately bucolic Whidbey Island, a quick 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 grew to become 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 presents you a job, say sure,’” he recalled.

Taking over one of many worst cleanup jobs within the historical past of American capitalism, at one of many most 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 ground.

“He got here right into a nightmare,” stated 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 stated his protégé has had “a depressing yr or two,” slammed by Covid, however that “Dara is a good government. And Uber is a good enterprise — ultimately.”

In his 2019 ebook, “Tremendous Pumped: The Battle for Uber” (quickly to be a Showtime drama by the “Billions” staff), the New York Occasions reporter Mike Isaac wrote: “For some, there stays a lingering, persistent concern: Is Uber underneath 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 reach right this moment’s insane economic system? Does the unimaginable shrinking kingdom of Uber nonetheless dream large?

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

He continued: “We’ll hold 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 suppose that traders essentially love them come what may,’’ he stated, sipping a glass of California cabernet sauvignon, his Dutch shepherd, Loki, curled at his ft. “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 attractive an organization anymore so far as attracting traders and expertise?

“My objective in life is to not construct probably the most attractive firm,” he stated. “It’s to construct the most effective firm.”

Mr. Kalanick undermined his successor at first, in line with Uber insiders, however Mr. Khosrowshahi finessed the founder slowly out of the enterprise. The Kalanick crowd didn’t make it straightforward on “the maths 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 stated, in his deep, even voice. “Actually, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time figuring it out. With me, he was usually useful. Then he bought out. He separated from the corporate, and I believe that was a effective factor to do.

“We work with him at Uber Eats and that’s effective,” Mr. Khosrowshahi stated. (Mr. Kalanick has a brand new start-up, CloudKitchens, which rents business area and turns it into shared kitchens for meals supply companies.) “I’ll take Travis’s aspect for a minute, which is, I needed to are available in 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 will be powerful for him. This was his life.”

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

“Are we as combative as we had been seven, eight years in the past? No,” Mr. Macdonald stated. “Will Dara battle and push and take points all the way in which for what he believes in? Sure. Travis was a extremely ferocious competitor. However the firm undoubtedly had blind spots because of this.”

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

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

He stated he “didn’t have sufficient time to be depressed or to really feel sorry.” As he was frantically making an attempt to determine if the corporate — already shedding billions — may survive shedding, in some locations, 85 p.c of its rides enterprise, he found “a glimmer shifting 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 stated. “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 an even bigger market.”

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

A couple of weeks in the past, Mr. Khosrowshahi rode a motorbike, delivering for Uber Eats in San Francisco for 2 days.

“I used to be nervous at first,” he stated, including that a few of it was enjoyable and a few of it was tough. “I practically bought killed delivering close to the baseball park. The Giants sport was beginning, and 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 prompt 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 possibly they’ll discover us waving, possibly they gained’t,’’ he stated. “However I believe our home goes to get larger.”

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

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

He stated the corporate is “leaning in and investing super-aggressively to bringing drivers again. We informed 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 downside; wouldn’t its unique 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 great distance off. Doesn’t Uber both should cost much more for the rides or discover some solution 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 enables gig economic system corporations to maintain treating drivers as impartial contractors, by no means may have handed “within the bluest of blue states” until a whole lot of drivers supported it. He stated that a few yr in the past, he determined to focus not solely on drivers’ independence but in addition on good pay.

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

“That’s the primary time I’ve been referred to as a reasonably face,” Mr. Khosrowshahi stated wryly, earlier than permitting: “Our system doesn’t work for a sure share of drivers who can’t determine it out, who can’t perceive how one can make it work. I do suppose that for that share — and it’s most likely 10 p.c of our drivers however while you’re speaking about 10 p.c of one million drivers on the highway — that’s lots of people who wish to earn and our system isn’t working correctly for. I do suppose that we’ve to construct higher safeguards for individuals who can’t make our system fairly work the way in which that they wish to work, or we’re prepared 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 they’d comprised of their giant 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 youngster; now the lady who had by no means set foot in a kitchen grew to become 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 straightforward.

When his father returned to Iran to attempt to get his personal father out, he was not allowed to depart 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 underneath his wing.

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

Lili taught Dara to remain humble. He prefers giving his staff 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 realized from his mom,” stated his daughter, Chloe, 20, a pupil at Brown College, her father’s alma mater. “He’s daring, however in his personal approach, a much less apparent approach. He permits different individuals’s voices to fill the room.”

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

Tony West, the chief authorized officer of Uber, stated that Mr. Khosrowshahi is prepared to tackle authorized threat to repair the Uber office. “We not have pressured arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Mr. West stated, including that, in these circumstances, “We not use confidentiality agreements.”

Would Mr. Khosrowshahi need one among his personal youngsters to drive for Uber?

Sure, he stated, however he would need them “to ultimately have a full-time job, work in a technical discipline. I believe really a few of the packages that we’re having now are to supply a bridge” to turn out to be a coder or salesperson at Uber or to get a free training. (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 informed The Wall Avenue Journal, “Folks don’t like commuting, however so what?”

Mr. Khosrowshahi stated 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 website for ordering motion pictures.

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

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

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

However he mused that generally the system “works too effectively”: “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 government 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 staff.

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

“I believe, similar 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 stated. “My hope is, it doesn’t destroy what we constructed.

“Generally the emotional takes over and I believe that’s damaging 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 frightened that ProPublica, which just lately revealed that many prime chief executives pay little or no taxes, has his tax data?

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

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

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

“I believe for those who outline equity by ‘honest market worth,’ then C.E.O.s are paid pretty,” he stated. “I believe for those who outline equity by the way you suppose society ought to worth individuals, then I believe C.E.O.s are paid an excessive amount of. You would put me in that group. The system, the way in which it’s designed with these compensation consultants, creates a considerably inflationary surroundings. Each single comp committee desires to pay their C.E.O. on the sixtieth to seventy fifth percentile, as a result of nobody ever desires a median 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 critical mistake”?

“I realized to not make excuses,” he stated 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 minimize off from the US,” he stated. “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 may be 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 intense thought,” he stated. “I wished to get married. I wished it to final, as a result of it was my second marriage and I’m head over heels in love with Syd. I stated ‘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 seeking 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 one among Dara’s pal 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, one among two youngsters from Mr. Khosrowshahi’s first marriage, informed me later.

Ms. Shapiro, 43, wearing a black linen prime and pants and absently braiding and unbraiding her lengthy blond hair, stated of her mom: “She was frightened as a result of I graduated faculty after which I wished to go work on a farm in Costa Rica after which I went to Ozzfest as a photographer’s assistant and he or she was like, ‘You could calm down.’ I couldn’t have imagined having something in frequent 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 they’d been courting awhile, Ms. Shapiro informed him that he ought to go do the C.E.O. factor and date a flock of supermodels after which, when he wished to calm down, come again.

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

Chloe stated that the person often called a “Dad” in Silicon Valley takes the function simply as significantly at residence.

When she was little, her father — a fan of Joseph Campbell, Greek myths, sci-fi and George R.R. Martin — would concoct youngsters’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 informed her, “It’s the most effective time on the earth to be homosexual.”

The household has a extra formal residence in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, town the place Uber’s headquarters are. However Whidbey is their “comfortable 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 together with his sons, and he put in a funicular that goes all the way 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 residence and household.

“I’ll all the time have this,” he stated. “I believe Uber is icing on the cake. It’s an enormous 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 decisions 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 suppose they’re good in any respect.

You like “Loss of life Cab for Cutie.”

In the suitable pensive second, completely.

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

Depends upon the hour.

You imagine in aliens.

Not till I see proof of them.

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

Affirm. These had been darkish days.

Like many a cougar, you take pleasure in William White’s TikTok movies, through which 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 really 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 he or she nonetheless cherished me afterwards. Which is a really robust assertion.

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

And he or she appeared good.

You determined to depart Expedia as soon as Barry Diller made Joey Levin the chief government of IAC.

Had nothing to do with that.

While you bought the Uber job, your daughter discovered through a New York Occasions push notification.

Completely true. The Occasions beat me to the punch.

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