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 of his 8-year-old twin boys requested me: “Who was your worst interview and who was your best?”
I replied that Kevin Costner was one of my least favourite, as a result of he was on the top of his fame and acting 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, seemed throughout the kitchen desk at her husband with a sultry Lauren Bacall smile. “You need to up your eccentricity,” she mentioned teasingly.
He seemed again at her, amused.
His 16-year-old son jumped in with an help. “My dad’s a lizard person,’’ he said. The teenager said he had found a random post on the internet about a conspiracy theory contending that his father, Queen Elizabeth, George W. Bush and Bob Hope are all lizard people. “They’re reptilian aliens that can shape shift and control the world,” he defined. “Just know that if you pour water on him, he will melt. If he gets aggressive, don’t move. He can only see you if you’re moving.”
Actually Mr. Khosrowshahi, 52, is weirdly regular for Silicon Valley. He’s not rising a Neanderthal beard, dwelling off salt juice or summering in outer area, however somewhat bucolic Whidbey Island, a quick ferry trip 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 identify turned synonymous with overly aggressive enterprise strikes and the gnarly bro excesses of Silicon Valley.
“My dad’s advice was, ‘If a company that’s a verb offers you a job, say yes,’” he recalled.
Taking on one of the worst cleanup jobs within the historical past of American capitalism, at one of the most loathed companies, Mr. Khosrowshahi was like a dad who needed to mop up after the frat celebration, put all of the Solo cups away and get the vomit off the marble ground.
“He came into a nightmare,” mentioned Barry Diller, who, juggling calls from his yacht, helped him nab the job after “the terrible board” deadlocked between Meg Whitman and Jeff Immelt.
Mr. Diller mentioned his protégé has had “a miserable year or two,” slammed by Covid, however that “Dara is a great executive. And Uber is a great business — eventually.”
In his 2019 ebook, “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” (quickly to be a Showtime drama by the “Billions” crew), the New York Times reporter Mike Isaac wrote: “For some, there remains a lingering, persistent concern: Is Uber under Dara Khosrowshahi still going to swing for the fences? Or has Uber lost its appetite for moonshots and world domination — the alluring, Travis-like quests that attracted them to the company in 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 massive?
“Right now, I dream about pushing a button and getting a piano delivered to your home in an hour and a half,’’ Mr. Khosrowshahi said. “I think that’d be really cool.”
He continued: “We’ll keep working on go-and-get. Anywhere you want to go, anything you want to get, however you want to get it, we’ll be there for you.”
Is the period of mercurial jerk geniuses coming again?
“I don’t think that investors necessarily love them one way or the other,’’ he said, sipping a glass of California cabernet sauvignon, his Dutch shepherd, Loki, curled at his feet. “I think the press does and the Twitter-sphere does. But I think investors like returns.”
The poisonous Travis tradition is gone however nobody appears certain 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 goal in life is not to build the most sexy company,” he mentioned. “It is to build the best company.”
‘A Glimmer Moving Fast’
Mr. Kalanick undermined his successor initially, in accordance with Uber insiders, however Mr. Khosrowshahi finessed the founder slowly out of the enterprise. The Kalanick crowd didn’t make it straightforward on “the math guy,” as some name him, with efforts to divide the corporate into Travis folks and Dara folks 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. “Honestly, I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring it out. With me, he was generally helpful. Then he got out. He separated from the company, and I think that was a fine thing to do.
“We work with him at Uber Eats and that’s fine,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned. (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 side for a minute, which is, I had to come in and be very clear that the company was no longer his. I had to be more forceful because of where we came from. I can completely imagine that hurting, because he’d built the company. I’m not necessarily defending him, but I understand how it would be tough 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 culture values to do the right thing.”
“Are we as combative as we were seven, eight years ago? No,” Mr. Macdonald mentioned. “Will Dara fight and push and take issues all the way for what he believes in? Yes. Travis was a really ferocious competitor. But the company definitely had blind spots as a result.”
Mr. Khosrowshahi had gotten by way of 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 p.c of his work drive. Who needed to get in a automobile with a stranger, even when there have been wherever to go?
“When coronavirus hit, we pulled back pretty aggressively,” he mentioned. “We got out of some businesses. There are certain times where you should be conservative. And there are certain times where you go for it.”
He mentioned he “didn’t have enough time to be depressed or to feel sorry.” As he was frantically making an attempt to determine if the corporate — already dropping billions — might survive dropping, in some locations, 85 p.c of its rides enterprise, he found “a glimmer moving fast”: 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.
“When I joined, Eats was a $2.5 billion business,” he mentioned. “We’re going to be over $50 billion now. Eats on a volume basis is going to be bigger than Rides chiefly because with Eats, we’re going to go to grocery and we’re going to the pharmacy and we’re going to every single local commerce category. It’s a bigger market.”
It hit him, he mentioned, that each one the companies he had been shedding — scooters, electrical bikes, autonomous vehicles, flying vehicles — “were a distraction to the mission. People are going to start moving again and this business — get anything and everything that you want in your house — was going to be bigger 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 was nervous at first,” he mentioned, including that some of it was enjoyable and a few of it was tough. “I nearly got killed delivering near the baseball park. The Giants game was starting, and traffic was nuts. My hypothesis is that someone knew that I’m a Mets fan.”
Around the time of Uber’s I.P.O. in 2019, Mr. Khosrowshahi suggested that the corporate might be the Amazon of transportation. Has that dream dimmed?
“I think we’re neighbors at this point and we’ll look over the fence and wave at them and maybe they’ll notice us waving, maybe they won’t,’’ he said. “But I think our house is going to get bigger.”
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, according to one estimate — and, due to Uber, there are far fewer taxis.
“It’s not where it needs to be right now,” Mr. Khosrowshahi conceded.
He mentioned the corporate is “leaning in and investing super-aggressively to bringing drivers back. We told investors, we’re going to hurt our margins in the second quarter doing so.” He predicted that by September, costs will return “to nearly the good old days,” adjusted for inflation.
Some analysts be aware that Uber’s ride-sharing enterprise appears to have an existential drawback; wouldn’t its unique enterprise mannequin solely work if it used billions to subsidize the associated fee of rides till the transition to self-driving vehicles? But a driverless future is a great distance off. Doesn’t Uber both must 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 enables gig economic system firms to maintain treating drivers as impartial contractors, by no means might have handed “in the bluest of blue states” except loads of drivers supported it. He mentioned that a couple of 12 months in the past, he determined to focus not solely on drivers’ independence but additionally on good pay.
Scott Galloway, a professor of advertising and marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, compares the Uber chief to Sheryl Sandberg, “the pretty face” that obscures the harm their companies are doing to society.
“That’s the first time I’ve been called a pretty face,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned wryly, earlier than permitting: “Our system doesn’t work for a certain percentage of drivers who can’t figure it out, who can’t understand how to make it work. I do think that for that percentage — and it’s probably 10 percent of our drivers but when you’re talking about 10 percent of a million drivers on the road — that’s a lot of people who want to earn and our system isn’t working properly for. I do think that we have to build better safeguards for people who can’t make our system quite work the way that they want to work, or we’re willing to work with regulators to have certain safeguards like minimum earnings.”
‘It Ain’t Called Laborism’
In 1979, when Dara was 9, his Muslim household fled Iran to flee the revolution, leaving the fortune they’d constituted of their massive pharmaceutical and cosmetics firm. They moved to an uncle’s mansion in Irvington, N.Y., for a pair of months earlier than getting a condominium in Tarrytown.
Once, 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. Once, 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 an excellent prep faculty, the Hackley School, in Tarrytown. Dara’s soccer and math abilities made assimilation straightforward.
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 faculty pals with the Khosrowshahi boys, took the household underneath his wing.
“This man was an angel,” Lili mentioned. “He took them on private planes, on the best trips ever, for summer vacations and skiing.”
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 bit of feminine energy that he learned from his mother,” mentioned his daughter, Chloe, 20, a scholar at Brown University, her father’s alma mater. “He’s bold, but in his own way, a less obvious way. He allows other people’s voices to fill the room.”
Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned merely, “I just grew up in a circumstance where getting along was the way to survive.” (He shouldn’t be spiritual however is fascinated by spiritual narratives.)
Tony West, the chief authorized officer of Uber, mentioned that Mr. Khosrowshahi is prepared to tackle authorized danger to repair the Uber office. “We no longer have forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Mr. West mentioned, including that, in these instances, “We no longer use confidentiality agreements.”
Would Mr. Khosrowshahi need one of his personal kids to drive for Uber?
Yes, he mentioned, however he would need them “to eventually have a full-time job, work in a technical field. I think actually some of the programs that we’re having now are to provide a bridge” to turn out to be a coder or salesperson at Uber or to get a free training. (The firm has an arrangement with Arizona State University on-line to cowl tuition for drivers.)
He is extra laissez-faire about returning to the workplace than Jamie Dimon, who lately told The Wall Street Journal, “People don’t like commuting, but so what?”
Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned that as a result of Uber is a mixture of the digital world and the true world — “the real world that punches you in the face all the time with its unpredictability” — his tech challenges are completely different than a website for ordering motion pictures.
“The technology that needs to be built to have that hamburger show up in 30 minutes, guaranteed, is spectacular,” he mentioned. “If there is a genius coder who is happier coding from Colorado and can come into the office once in a while 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 unclean phrase. What are the moral boundaries of disruption?
“I do think there’s power in a name,” he mentioned. “Our system is called capitalism. It’s designed to optimize for long-term growth of capital. When people wonder, ‘Well, are capital owners advantaged over labor?’ it ain’t called laborism.”
But he mused that typically the system “works too well”: “I think capitalism has its claws in our democratic societies in ways that has allowed it to overly optimize for its benefit.”
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 Trade Commission and signed an executive order zeroing in on anticompetitive practices.
Pete Buttigieg, who joined a protest exterior Uber’s headquarters in 2019, now leads the Department of Transportation. Marty Walsh, who fought Uber as mayor of Boston, now leads the Department of Labor; in April, he talked about the necessity to reclassify some gig employees as workers.
While noting that “our regulatory sandbox is much more city and state than it is federal,” Mr. Khosrowshahi mentioned that this tech-lash is inevitable.
“I think, just like Uber, some of them grew up too fast and some of them didn’t take responsibility for their power and I think now they’re being called to reckon, and I think it’ll ultimately result in a better, more balanced society going forward,” he mentioned. “My hope is, it doesn’t destroy what we built.
“Sometimes the emotional takes over and I think that’s destructive but I think the age of ‘I built a platform, I’m not responsible,’ that time is over. And now the question is, what does the responsibility look like? Defining it and putting guard rails around it, I think that’s a healthy thing.”
Is he nervous that ProPublica, which recently revealed that many prime chief executives pay little or no taxes, has his tax data?
“I think that they will have less of a problem with my tax record,” he mentioned. “I think there are real issues that are being raised there.” While 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 constantly these lawyers knocking on my door to build these crazy trusts and all that,” he mentioned. “Sometimes I feel like an idiot not answering. I’m the dope who’s not doing all this stuff. But it’s just not what I want to be spending my time on.”
Do the captains of the cloud and trade making obscene gobs of dough deserve it?
“I think if you define fairness by ‘fair market value,’ then C.E.O.s are paid fairly,” he mentioned. “I think if you define fairness by how you think society should value people, then I think C.E.O.s are paid too much. You could put me in that group. The system, the way it’s designed with these compensation consultants, creates a significantly inflationary environment. Every single comp committee wants to pay their C.E.O. at the 60th to 75th percentile, because no one ever wants an average C.E.O., God help us.”
What did he study from the fallout after he downplayed the Khashoggi execution by Saudi leaders, who’re main shareholders in Uber, as “a serious mistake”?
“I learned 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 think that it is a shame that Iran is so cut off from the United States,” he mentioned. “I think there’s some unfortunate history there. The Iranian culture is more ancient than the Islamic religion. It’s a deep culture, and there is an innate love that Iranians have for American culture and Americans. I’m hoping that that connection can come back again.”
He jokes that he and his spouse have discovered an answer for peace within the Middle East. She has his identify tattooed in Farsi on her wrist, and he has her identify tattooed in Hebrew on the again of his neck. He visits Twitter twice a day, and Instagram at night time — 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 bright idea,” he mentioned. “I wanted to get married. I wanted it to last, because it was my second marriage and I’m madly in love with Syd. I said ‘Let’s get married on 12-12-12.’ It’s a lucky day. We went to Las Vegas to get married. It was us and about 10,000 Chinese people looking to get married because it’s a very, very lucky day there.”
The two had been fastened up by Sydney’s mom and the mom of one of Dara’s good friend who had been half of a “Jewish mothers’ dating network,” as he put it.
“She thought he was a C.E.O. egomaniac but that she’d get a free dinner,” Chloe, one of two kids 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, mentioned of her mom: “She was worried because I graduated college and then I wanted to go work on a farm in Costa Rica and then I went to Ozzfest as a photographer’s assistant and she was like, ‘You need to settle down.’ I couldn’t have imagined having anything in common with a C.E.O. No.”
Mr. Khosrowshahi laughed, noting, “Her mom still can’t say my name right.” (Say it like this: DAR-uh Koz-row-SHA-hee.)
After they’d been relationship 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 needed to calm down, come again.
“He had just gotten divorced,” she mentioned. “He came back, though.” He calls her “Shapiro”; she calls him “dude.”
Chloe mentioned that the person often known as a “Dad” in Silicon Valley takes the function simply as severely at residence.
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 12 months that she was, as she dryly put it, “an Iranian lesbian,” he gave her a fist bump and informed her, “It’s the best time in the world to be gay.”
The household has a extra formal residence in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, town the place Uber’s headquarters are. But Whidbey is their “happy 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 recreation room, the place he performs board video games and card video games along with his sons, and he put in a funicular that goes all the way down to the rocky seashore on the Puget Sound, which is often too chilly for swimming.
Asked 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 always have this,” he mentioned. “I think Uber is icing on the cake. It’s a big cake and I want it to be really tasty.”
Confirm or Deny
Maureen Dowd: Travis Kalanick is crazier than Travis Bickle.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Who’s Travis Bickle?
Travis sends you emoji-laden texts.
You just like the casting selections for Showtime’s forthcoming “Super Pumped” present about Uber.
Only if Daniel Day-Lewis performs me.
The Lyft co-founders are too good.
I don’t suppose they’re good in any respect.
You love “Death Cab for Cutie.”
In the correct pensive second, completely.
You would smoke a blunt on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Depends on the hour.
You imagine in aliens.
Not till I see proof of them.
In faculty, you launched your self as “Darren Kay” since you nervous that nobody might pronounce your identify, however you then stopped utilizing it since you nervous that it gave the impression of a porn identify.
Confirm. Those 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 folks 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 liked me afterwards. Which is a really robust assertion.
Your spouse wore a Slayer T-shirt to your Vegas marriage ceremony.
And she seemed good.
You determined to go away Expedia as soon as Barry Diller made Joey Levin the chief government of IAC.
Had nothing to do with that.
When you bought the Uber job, your daughter came upon through a New York Times push notification.
Absolutely true. The Times beat me to the punch.