-- BUILD­ING CHAR­AC­TER --> AS CEO DARA KHOS­ROW­SHAHI __ REMAKES UBER WITH _ AN EYE TO­WARD AN IPO, HIS IRA­NIAN CHILD­HOOD AND _____ ____HERITAGE ARE ES­SEN­TIAL TO __ UN­DER­STAND­ING HOW HE LEADS.>>

>>>>> WHEN DARA KHOSROWSHAHI_ _ WAS A CHILD, ___HE LIVED IN A SPRAWLING__ __FAMILY COM­POUND >>

Fast Company - - Fc - > BY DAVID PEISNER __ IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS BY KUO-CHENG LIAO

P.84 NOVEM­BER 2018

in Far­manieh, a hilly en­clave in north­ern Tehran. His great-grand­fa­ther, grand­fa­ther, and great-un­cles had started a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal busi­ness in the 1950s that had grown to be­come a mas­sive con­glom­er­ate. The fam­ily was one of Iran’s wealth­i­est, one of the few whose for­tunes weren’t tied to oil or the monar­chy. Their com­pound had mul­ti­ple houses, where Khos­row­shahi’s ex­tended fam­ily resided. It also had a soc­cer field, ten­nis courts, and mul­ti­ple swim­ming pools, in­clud­ing a dou­ble-decker one where he, his two broth­ers, and many cousins liked to leap from the up­per, shal­lower pool to the lower, deeper one.

In 1979, when Khos­row­shahi was 9, vi­o­lent protests had forced the coun­try’s au­to­cratic ruler, Mo­ham­mad Reza Shah, to flee, and ush­ered in a new, Is­lamic regime. The Khos­row­shahi fam­ily had gen­er­ally steered clear of pol­i­tics, al­though one of Khos­row­shahi’s great-un­cles did serve as the shah’s Min­is­ter of Com­merce be­tween 1977 and 1978. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard mem­bers pa­trolled the neigh­bor­hood. Khos­row­shahi re­mem­bers a friendly guards­man let­ting him hold his AK-47, and be­ing struck by the sheer weight of it. One day, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard stormed a house across the street, where the shah’s cousin lived. When they scaled a wall, one sol­dier’s gun dis­charged, spray­ing bul­lets through the Khos­row­shahi fam­ily’s liv­ing room win­dow. “We were all on the ground, ter­ri­fied,” Khos­row­shahi tells me. “That was when my mom said, ‘We’re leav­ing.’ I’ve never been back.”

Forty years later, on a sunny, breezy Thurs­day in mid-june, Khos­row­shahi, now the CEO of Uber, is rid­ing a bright-red bi­cy­cle through down­town San Fran­cisco. He is wear­ing a gray sweater, blue-checked shirt, jeans, and black shoes. His shirt­sleeves are per­fectly cuffed, mid­way up his fore­arms. His jeans look like they’ve been ironed. His sweater is en­tirely lint-free.

He’s clearly en­joy­ing him­self, but he’s on this bike for a rea­son. In April, Uber ac­quired Jump, a dock­less bike-shar­ing startup that’s a key part of an op­er­a­tional evo­lu­tion for the com­pany, from ride-hail­ing giant to mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion plat­form. If all goes ac­cord­ing to Khos­row­shahi’s plan, soon we’ll no longer think of an Uber as merely the on­de­mand car that fer­ries you across town. Uber will be­come, as he puts it, “your in­dis­pens­able travel tool. Any way you want to get around, open our app and we get you there.” Af­ter tour­ing Jump’s ware­house ear­lier in the day, Khos­row­shahi and I chose to bike the mile and a half back to Uber HQ on Jump’s mo­tor­ized e-bikes rather than ride with the com­pany’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team in a black SUV. Th­ese sorts of short trips are ex­actly the type Uber hopes to be­gin en­cour­ag­ing its users to take by bike rather than car, in­sist­ing it’ll be more cost-ef­fi­cient, eco-friendly, and con­ges­tion al­le­vi­at­ing. When we ar­rive at Uber’s of­fices five min­utes be­fore the com­mu­ni­ca­tions team, Khos­row­shahi is pos­i­tively glee­ful.

“A mile and a half, and it’s faster by bike!” he says, smil­ing, as he strides into a bustling re­cep­tion area. “That’s proof of con­cept!”

Re­brand­ing Uber as a trans­porta­tion plat­form to route peo­ple through cities via bikes, cars, scoot­ers, buses, trains—and, yes, per­haps one day, fly­ing cars—may be the eas­i­est part of the trans­for­ma­tion Khos­row­shahi is lead­ing. The big­ger chal­lenges could be dis­man­tling the com­pany’s no­to­ri­ously bro-ish cul­ture and re­vamp­ing its rep­u­ta­tion, earned un­der Uber co­founder Travis Kalan­ick, Sil­i­con Val­ley’s in­cor­ri­gi­ble bête noire. Uber’s cat­a­log of Kalan­ick-era prob­lems is long (and still emerg­ing). It in­cludes gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, a hos­tile work­place en­vi­ron­ment, in­tel­lec­tu­al­prop­erty theft, driver ex­ploita­tion, a mas­sive data breach, and a gen­eral yen for sidestep­ping reg­u­la­tors and in­tim­i­dat­ing crit­ics.

Whether Khos­row­shahi can ac­com­plish this feat may rest on what he learned 7,000 miles away from the fourth-floor con­fer­ence room in Uber’s head­quar­ters where we chat. He is the most vis­i­ble ex­am­ple of a wave of Ira­nian-amer­i­can en­trepreneurs, fi­nanciers, and ex­ec­u­tives who’ve reached the high­est ranks in Sil­i­con Val­ley over the past two decades, found­ing or hold­ing se­nior lead­er­ship po­si­tions at, among oth­ers, Google (and Youtube), Twit­ter (and Periscope), Yahoo, Nokia, Or­a­cle, Drop­box, Tin­der, ebay, Ge­nius, and Ex­pe­dia. That their rise has co­in­cided with 40 years of con­stant en­mity be­tween Iran and the U.S. makes it all the more no­table. The cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tivist stance has Khos­row­shahi con­cerned that the next wave of im­mi­grant en­trepreneurs might never make it past the bor­der. “The re­ac­tionary pol­i­tics and poli­cies may sat­isfy cer­tain peo­ple’s emo­tional states,” he says, “but from an eco­nomic stand­point, from a spir­i­tual stand­point of who we are,

it’s a mis­take. Be­ing an im­mi­grant in the States, there’s this un­der­dog feel­ing of, ‘Can we build back what our fam­ily lost?’ ”

Be­fore the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion, Khos­row-

shahi as­sumed he’d join his fam­ily’s busi­ness one day. The Khos­row­shahi Broth­ers Com­pany (KBC) was al­ready a mul­ti­fac­eted oper­a­tion by the time he was born, in 1969. KBC flour­ished amid the shah’s em­brace of Western-style cap­i­tal­ism, ex­pand­ing from im­port­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to man­u­fac­tur­ing them within Iran, then to pro­duc­ing cos­met­ics, house­hold goods, and pack­aged foods. Even­tu­ally, KBC bought its own bank. When the shah fell, the new Is­lamic govern­ment seized the com­pany.

Nearly the en­tire fam­ily left Iran. Most landed in Westch­ester County, north of New York City, where one of Khos­row­shahi’s grea­tun­cles, Nas­rol­lah, had been liv­ing since the 1960s. Khos­row­shahi, his par­ents, and two older broth­ers moved in with Nas­rol­lah and his fam­ily, be­fore even­tu­ally find­ing their own place—a three-bed­room con­do­minium in Tar­ry­town. “My fa­ther felt that he wanted to keep our wealth in [Iran], so my par­ents lost the vast ma­jor­ity of what they had,” he says. The fam­ily de­voted much of their re­main­ing as­sets to send­ing Dara, his broth­ers, and many of their cousins to the Hack­ley School, a pres­ti­gious prep acad­emy nearby.

Soc­cer helped Khos­row­shahi in­te­grate with his Amer­i­can class­mates. His two older broth­ers were cap­tains on the Hack­ley team; Khos­row­shahi was a cen­tral de­fender and later be­came goal­keeper. “They are po­si­tions that don’t get the glory but have ul­ti­mate ac­count­abil­ity,” he says. “Ev­ery goal that was scored when I was a goal­keeper—and there were plenty—was a goal that if I’d been in the right spot and re­acted the right way, I could’ve avoided. I loved that.”

Khos­row­shahi was an ex­cep­tional stu­dent. He could open a text­book on his lap in front of the TV, tune out the noise, and fo­cus on ex­actly what he needed to ab­sorb. He and his broth­ers and cousins who also set­tled in Westch­ester pushed each other hard. “It was com­pe­ti­tion only in the best sense of the word,” he says.

Within a few years, Khos­row­shahi’s dad re­turned to Iran to take care of his own ag­ing fa­ther. Once he ar­rived, the Ira­nian govern­ment—then mired in the blood­i­est days of the Iran-iraq War—wouldn’t let him leave for al­most six years. Khos­row­shahi wor­ried about nightly bomb­ing runs on Tehran by Iraqi fighter jets. But his fa­ther’s ab­sence clar­i­fied some things. “There was a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he says. “My broth­ers and I knew we weren’t here to screw around. We were ex­pected to get great grades, not get into trou­ble. [We] were lucky to be here.”

When Khos­row­shahi needed spend­ing money one sum­mer dur­ing high school, he ap­plied for work at a Mo­bil sta­tion on the same road as his elite pri­vate school. He’d check oil lev­els in cus­tomers’ cars. He’d clean their wind­shields. He and a co­worker chal­lenged each other to see who could earn the best tip. “We were con­stantly try­ing to read our cus­tomers,” Khos­row­shahi says. “I won be­cause I got a sil­ver pen, which was the slam dunk of gas sta­tion tips.”

His cousin Hadi Par­tovi, who is cur­rently CEO of the ed­u­ca­tion non­profit Code.org, didn’t know Khos­row­shahi was work­ing there un­til he pulled up to the sta­tion for gas one day. “The CEO of Uber started as a gas sta­tion at­ten­dant,” he says. “I love that.”

Ira­ni­ans were the largest group of for-

eign stu­dents in Amer­ica in the mid-1970s. And “Amer­i­cans were every­where in Iran,” says Faraj Aalaei, who lived in the coun­try

un­til 1978 and would go on to be­come CEO of the semi­con­duc­tor man­u­fac­turer Aquan­tia and take it pub­lic in Novem­ber 2017. “There were Amer­i­can-ira­nian clubs. On TV, ev­ery week­end, I’d watch the Oak­land Raiders, the Bos­ton Celtics.”

The bond be­tween Ira­ni­ans and Amer­i­cans was rup­tured in 1979, when Ira­nian stu­dents took 52 Amer­i­cans hostage at the U.S. em­bassy in Tehran for 444 days. “The pub­lic at­ti­tude was pretty neg­a­tive dur­ing the hostage cri­sis,” Khos­row­shahi re­calls. “That was a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, but kids are re­silient.”

Oth­ers are less politic about the ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was ter­ri­ble,” says Aalaei, who was a stu­dent at Went­worth In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, in Bos­ton, when the hostage cri­sis started. “It was hard for us to rent an apart­ment. There was a ban­ner hang­ing from the cam­pus li­brary telling us to go home. Pro­fes­sors were pick­ing on you. Fist­fights broke out in the civil en­gi­neer­ing depart­ment.”

Farhad Mo­hit, who left Iran in 1978 when he was 9 and went on to help found the in­ter­net com­pa­nies Bizrate, Shopzilla, and Fli­pa­gram, says that his class­mates “blamed me for co­or­di­nat­ing ev­ery­thing.” They weren’t com­pletely se­ri­ous but weren’t to­tally kid­ding, ei­ther. “Peo­ple were blam­ing me for some­thing I was run­ning from.”

The ef­fect can be last­ing. “When you’re young and thrown into that sit­u­a­tion, it does form your char­ac­ter,” Aalaei says. “Think about it: There’s no hostage cri­sis any­more, but ev­ery sin­gle day as an Ira­nian Amer­i­can, you’re told by the me­dia you’re no good, you’re a ter­ror­ist, that Ira­ni­ans are caus­ing prob­lems.”

Ira­ni­ans, though—un­like some im­mi­grant groups, who tend to cre­ate in­su­lar com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­ica—seem hard­wired for as­sim­i­la­tion, thanks to cen­turies of be­ing in­vaded and hav­ing to live and work along­side peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds. “It’s a xenophilic cul­ture,” says Mo­hit. “That’s a very good trait when you’re try­ing to es­tab­lish your­self some­place, try­ing to be en­trepreneurial.”

In the ’70s and ’80s, com­put­ers of­fered a wel­come respite. “They were my friends!” jokes Mo­hit, whose early alien­ation pushed him to­ward tech. The rel­a­tive mer­i­toc­racy of Sil­i­con Val­ley was sim­i­larly invit­ing. “Peo­ple I know have started so many com­pa­nies, and there’s never been prej­u­dice to­ward ‘Where’s your fam­ily from?’ ” says Twit­ter ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Omid Kordestani, who left Iran in 1978. “It was al­ways about your tal­ent.”

Iran’s aca­demic sys­tem was par­tic­u­larly well geared to en­abling fu­ture Sil­i­con Val­ley suc­cess. In Ira­nian schools, stu­dents picked one of three aca­demic paths af­ter mid­dle school: a math and physics track, for those who wanted to be engi­neers; a sci­ence track, for as­pir­ing doc­tors; and a lib­eral arts track for ev­ery­body else. “[My school] didn’t even have a lib­eral arts path,” says Bobby Yaz­dani, who left Iran in 1980 and went on to found Saba Soft­ware, even­tu­ally tak­ing it pub­lic and later be­com­ing a pro­lific in­vestor. Lib­eral arts, to Ira­ni­ans of his gen­er­a­tion, wasn’t for se­ri­ous stu­dents. “Peo­ple looked down on it. They’d say, ‘This is not a path.’ ”

For Khos­row­shahi and his ex­tended fam­ily, th­ese fac­tors have trans­lated into suc­cess. Khos­row­shahi’s brother Kaveh is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at the in­vest­ment firm Allen & Com­pany, which runs the Sun Val­ley Con­fer­ence (the an­nual Davos-like gath­er­ing of me­dia and tech big­wigs). His oldest brother, Mehrad, is pres­i­dent at the con­sult­ing firm Con­fida. His un­cle Has­san founded the Cana­dian elec­tron­ics chain Fu­ture Shop, which Best Buy ac­quired in 2001 for $580 mil­lion Cana­dian. Among his cousins: Twins Hadi and Ali Par­tovi were key early in­vestors in Face­book, Airbnb, and Drop­box; Amir Khos­row­shahi co­founded the AI startup Ner­vana, then sold it to In­tel, re­port­edly for $400 mil­lion; Farzad Khos­row­shahi cre­ated Google Sheets; Dar­ian Shi­razi was Face­book’s first in­tern and the co­founder and CEO of Ra­dius, a mar­ket­ing soft­ware com­pany; and Avid Larizadeh Duggan, who was named one of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Young Global Lead­ers in 2016, joined the dig­i­tal-mu­sic startup Kobalt as its chief strat­egy and busi­ness of­fi­cer in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter be­ing a VC for one of Google’s in­vest­ment arms.

“If there’s a spe­cial sauce in terms of

Ira­nian en­trepreneurs,” says Khos­row­shahi, “it’s this ex­pec­ta­tion of high achieve­ment, a wor­ship of ed­u­ca­tion, the im­mi­grant’s chip on the shoul­der, and this deep bazaari en­trepreneurial in­stinct (Con­tin­ued on page 104)

that you don’t nec­es­sar­ily as­so­ciate with other im­mi­grant cul­tures.”

Bazaari en­trepreneuri­al­ism—loosely de­fined as an ap­ti­tude for mar­ket­place busi­nesses with many buy­ers and sell­ers—has echoed through­out Khos­row­shahi’s ca­reer. Af­ter earn­ing a de­gree in elec­tri­cal and elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer­ing from Brown Uni­ver­sity, he started his ca­reer as an an­a­lyst at an in­vest­ment bank. Then Barry Diller hired him, first to work as a strate­gic plan­ning ex­ec­u­tive at USA Net­works and later at Diller’s tech con­glom­er­ate IAC. He held var­i­ous po­si­tions un­der Diller—in­clud­ing pres­i­dent and Cfo—but one of his main re­spon­si­bil­i­ties through­out was ne­go­ti­at­ing deals and ac­quir­ing new busi­nesses.

He was good at it. “He saw that on­line travel was go­ing to be su­per in­ter­est­ing as the web in­evitably ate the planet,” says Ex­pe­dia founder Rich Bar­ton, who got to know Khos­row­shahi when IAC moved to ac­quire the travel-book­ing giant. “He imag­ined some­thing even big­ger than I did, and I was the founder.”

IAC signed the Ex­pe­dia deal in mid-2001 but hadn’t yet closed on it when the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks sud­denly made the idea of buy­ing an on­line travel hub seem dicey. The deal con­tained a “ma­te­rial ad­verse change” clause that gave the pur­chasers the right to re­nege; the 9/11 at­tacks al­most cer­tainly qual­i­fied. Khos­row­shahi, though, stayed the course.

“He didn’t get any­body pan­icked and came to the right strate­gic con­clu­sion,” says Bar­ton. “If the travel in­dus­try didn’t re­cover very quickly from this and carry on its nor­mal up­ward tra­jec­tory, then [we’d] have big­ger prob­lems as hu­mans and [the loss wouldn’t] mat­ter much any­way.”

As Khos­row­shahi sees it, “Usu­ally, great deals are ones that aren’t ob­vi­ous to the greater mar­ket­place. This kind of bazaari in­stinct has cre­ated a com­fort for me to go against the grain. It’s al­lowed me to be con­fi­dent and in­de­pen­dent-minded, to push to find value where some­times oth­ers haven’t been able to ex­plore. I’m com­fort­able with volatil­ity.”

At Uber, when Khos­row­shahi sought to pur­chase Jump, the e-bikes startup he ac­quired for a re­ported $200 mil­lion ear­lier this year, Ryan Rzepecki, Jump’s founder, says he found Khos­row­shahi “charis­matic,” but “not very ag­gres­sive.” Ne­go­ti­a­tion, for Khos­row­shahi, wasn’t a zero-sum game. “It was more like, ‘Come do this with me. We know you have op­tions, but we think we have the best op­tion for you.’ ”

For­mer Ex­pe­dia CEO Bar­ton, who is now a part­ner at the VC firm Bench­mark, which was an early in­vestor in Uber but took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step last year of su­ing then CEO Kalan­ick over con­trol of the com­pany’s board of di­rec­tors, calls Khos­row­shahi a Jedi. “He has this calm­ing, be­guil­ing way of get­ting peo­ple to think what he wants them to think,” he says. “It’s not Machi­avel­lian. He’s a good lis­tener.”

Khos­row­shahi’s great-grand­fa­ther Hadj

Has­san Khos­row­shahi was a promi­nent trader in the bazaar in the north­west­ern city of Tabriz be­fore form­ing the Khos­row­shahi Broth­ers Com­pany with his sons. By 1957, Hadj Has­san had ceded op­er­a­tional con­trol but re­mained a deeply prin­ci­pled fig­ure­head. In a let­ter to his sons, he out­lined his busi­ness phi­los­o­phy in six points that were quite pro­gres­sive for the time (“[Be con­scious] of our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties . . . Be kind to fel­low em­ploy­ees . . .”). Hadi Par­tovi, whose grand­fa­ther was also one of KBC’S founders, says the fam­ily took tremen­dous pride that its busi­ness treated work­ers well, build­ing houses and schools for them. “Those are val­ues [we] grew up with,” he says. “That’s be­come part of who I am, and who Dara is.”

When Khos­row­shahi took over at both Ex­pe­dia and Uber, he un­veiled a list of cul­tural norms he hoped to re­fash­ion the com­pa­nies around. In the case of Uber, th­ese were things like, “We cel­e­brate dif­fer­ences,” and “We per­se­vere.” (Th­ese re­placed Kalan­ick’s val­ues, which cel­e­brated “toe step­ping” and “al­ways be hus­tlin’.”) Khos­row­shahi had known his great-grand­fa­ther but was too young to ab­sorb his busi­ness phi­los­o­phy di­rectly. “I re­ally saw the val­ues of my great-grand­fa­ther play out with my fa­ther,” he says. Khos­row­shahi’s dad had man­aged KBC’S fac­to­ries in Iran. As a boy, Khos­row­shahi of­ten vis­ited th­ese fac­to­ries with his dad. “I re­mem­ber the way the work­ers re­spected him, the way he talked to them. He knew them all by name. He’d ask about their fam­i­lies. He wasn’t some dis­tant fig­ure.”

When Khos­row­shahi makes his first visit to the Jump ware­house in San Fran­cisco, only the ware­house man­ager and a few me­chan­ics are there. He does more lis­ten­ing than talk­ing. He asks tar­geted ques­tions, learn­ing how the Jump staff lo­cates bikes around the city, ser­vices them, and re­po­si­tions them ev­ery morn­ing. When he rewrote Ex­pe­dia’s val­ues, re­calls Neha Parikh, whom Khos­row­shahi even­tu­ally pro­moted to be pres­i­dent of the dis­count travel site Hotwire, “they were so re­flec­tive of his own,” she says. “‘We lead humbly.’ ‘We’re ac­tively in­ter­ested in the suc­cess of oth­ers.’ He’s re­lent­less about those things.”

His mis­sion is on­go­ing at Uber. In his first six months as CEO, he trav­eled widely— to Europe, Asia, South Amer­ica—on what amounted to an epic apol­ogy tour. He set­tled an in­tel­lec­tual-prop­erty law­suit from Google’s self-driv­ing unit, Waymo, and then be­gan mus­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of in­cor­po­rat­ing Waymo’s ve­hi­cles into Uber’s net­work. He’s held fo­rums to hear con­cerns from Uber driv­ers. He an­nounced that the com­pany would sup­port a fee on Uber trips that would go to­ward a “hard­ship fund” for New York taxi-medal­lion own­ers whose fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity has been im­per­iled due to Uber’s rise. This past May, he ap­peared in a com­mer­cial, say­ing that “one of our core val­ues . . . is to al­ways do the right thing. And if there are times when we fall short, we com­mit to be­ing open, tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the prob­lem, and fix­ing it.”

Uber has fallen short, even on his watch. News broke in July that Uber COO Bar­ney Har­ford was the sub­ject of for­mal com­plaints re­gard­ing the way he talked about women and peo­ple of color. That same month, the com­pany’s hu­man re­sources chief, Liane Hornsey, re­signed amid al­le­ga­tions that she’d ig­nored dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints. Hornsey was a Kalan­ick-era holdover, but Har­ford had been Khos­row­shahi’s most sig­nif­i­cant early hire. Har­ford re­leased a con­trite state­ment, vow­ing to im­prove, and re­mains in the job. Much of Khos­row­shahi’s first year was spent clean­ing up other peo­ple’s messes. Now the com­pany’s prob­lems are his to own.

In 2015, New York City threat­ened to

cap the num­ber of ride-hail­ing ve­hi­cles al­lowed in the city. Kalan­ick re­sponded with an ag­gres­sive cam­paign that in­cluded adding a “De Bla­sio view” fea­ture in Uber’s app, of­fer­ing a dystopian vi­sion of the city with fewer avail­able Uber rides. The city backed down. When the is­sue resur­faced this year, Khos­row­shahi met with lo­cal politi­cians and pushed the hash­tag #Dontstrand­nyc. But his cam­paign was mea­sured, fo­cus­ing on the need for ride-hail­ing ser­vices in the outer bor­oughs. The city coun­cil ap­proved the cap in Au­gust, a sig­nif­i­cant blow for Uber in its largest U.S. mar­ket. The po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is dif­fer­ent from what it was three years ago, to be sure. But there’s no get­ting around the fact that it will take more than hu­mil­ity and diplo­macy to suc­ceed as Uber’s CEO.

Af­ter the de­ci­sion, Bradley Tusk, a po­lit­i­cal strate­gist who ad­vised Kalan­ick and Uber dur­ing the 2015 cam­paign, crit­i­cized

Khos­row­shahi for, es­sen­tially, car­ry­ing a knife to a gun­fight. “Dara’s long-term am­bi­tion for Uber—a less tur­bu­lent rep­u­ta­tion head­ing into a 2019 Ipo—may make sense in the ag­gre­gate,” Tusk told Fast Com­pany, “but in ev­ery city across the world, it also leaves the com­pany highly vul­ner­a­ble. Pas­siv­ity may turn out to be just as risky as the pre­vi­ous regime’s ag­gres­sive ap­proach.”

Per­haps, but there may be a dif­fer­ent way of un­der­stand­ing Khos­row­shahi’s ap­proach. In Ira­nian cul­ture, there is a prac­tice called ta’arouf, which is hard to trans­late but ba­si­cally amounts to an elab­o­rate dis­play of eti­quette. It in­volves not only ex­treme def­er­ence to­ward a guest or even an ad­ver­sary but also a sig­nif­i­cant amount of self-dep­re­ca­tion, bor­der­ing on self-ab­ne­ga­tion. Ta’arouf is “a cul­tural im­per­a­tive that is about man­ners, yes, but is also about gain­ing ad­van­tage, po­lit­i­cally, so­cially, or eco­nom­i­cally, as much as any­thing else,” writes Ira­nian-amer­i­can au­thor Hooman Majd in The Ay­a­tol­lah Begs to Dif­fer. “Amer­i­can busi­nesses and busi­ness­men are known to suc­ceed with brash­ness, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and some­times even a cer­tain amount of ruth­less­ness; Ira­nian busi­ness­men suc­ceed rather more qui­etly with a good dose of ta’arouf . . . in such a way that doors are opened be­fore the ones open­ing the doors re­al­ize they have done so.”

In this light, Khos­row­shahi’s more tem­pered re­sponse in New York—along with his “re­treat” in South­east Asia and Rus­sia, where he pulled Uber out of large, po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive mar­kets in fa­vor of eq­uity stakes in lo­cal ri­vals—looks more like a savvy long-term play. It gives him strate­gic ad­van­tage he might not have had if he’d pur­sued Kalan­ick’s style of ruth­less cap­i­tal­ism. When I point out this ide­o­log­i­cal change to Khos­row­shahi, he shifts a lit­tle in his con­fer­ence room chair. Part of his bal­anc­ing act is to rein­vent Uber with­out alien­at­ing those who built it with Kalan­ick. “There are dif­fer­ent styles for ev­ery­body,” he says, choos­ing his words care­fully. “That ta’arouf, or that hu­mil­ity, has been a deep part of how I’ve grown up. Suc­ceed, but suc­ceed qui­etly.”

Al­though Uber is a for-profit com­pany, in many ways Khos­row­shahi sees it as a pub­lic util­ity, or at least a pub­lic good. Uber’s chal­lenges in the com­ing years—not just chang­ing the com­pany’s cul­ture but also per­suad­ing cities and coun­tries around the world to trust it to be a vi­tal part of ur­ban life—de­mand more co­op­er­a­tive spirit, more re­serve, more ta’arouf. “The next 5 or 10 years re­quire a dif­fer­ent way of grow­ing,” he says. “As op­posed to burst­ing through doors, it’s to open doors. It’s to have con­ver­sa­tion.”

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