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Uber CEO Talks About What's Changed For The Company In The Last Year


On this week's All Tech Considered, we are going to talk to the man who has led Uber for the past year.


CHANG: One year ago, Uber was a company in chaos. Its previous leader, Travis Kalanick, had been pushed out after a series of missteps as stories of scandals piled up, stories about rampant sexual harassment at the company, disgruntled drivers and fights with regulators and city officials. During this turmoil, Dara Khosrowshahi left a cushy job as head of Expedia and walked straight into the eye of the storm. He's just about to finish his first year as CEO, and he joins me now to talk about how it's going. Welcome.

DARA KHOSROWSHAHI: Thank you very much, although I take exception to my last job being cushy.

CHANG: (Laughter).

KHOSROWSHAHI: I've been trained well.

CHANG: But you're probably in a tougher gig at the moment. And I'm curious. When you first arrived at Uber, what was your impression of the culture at the company?

KHOSROWSHAHI: My impression of the culture inside the company was night and day different from the impression of the culture that I read about. It's no question that the company made mistakes. But I'll tell you the vast majority of the employees there want to do the right thing.

CHANG: So you're saying that reports about women feeling marginalized or sexually harassed - there were quotes when former Attorney General Eric Holder's report came out about the company culture. Some sources had said that it read like a description of "Animal House." You're saying you sensed none of that when you first entered the company.

KHOSROWSHAHI: Listen; I think that a lot of that obviously happened. There's no question that the culture of the company needed work.

CHANG: But with respect to the culture, I mean, there been reports that after you took over, one executive resigned reportedly over allegations. She mishandled racial discrimination claims. Another executive was called out for making insensitive remarks about women and minorities. Do you have confidence that the culture is truly changing at Uber?

KHOSROWSHAHI: I've got every confidence that the culture is changing. But it is a work in process. And we're not going to be perfect from the get-go. My leadership team has gone through training in terms of diversity inclusion so that we're not only aware but we have the tools with which to create a workplace where everybody can succeed. I am by no means telling you that we are where we want to be. But I know that we're improving as a company. And one year from now, we're going to be much, much better than we are today.

CHANG: You have said that you hope to take the company public next year. You've got, however, drivers who want to get paid more. You've got a lot of competition with other ride hailing companies. You have New York City capping the number of Uber drivers. So with all of that going on, how do you convince investors that this is going to be a profitable company?

KHOSROWSHAHI: We're the biggest brand in transportation in the world. We're a business that is going to do over $10 billion of revenue and grows at unparalleled rates. And I do think that we are able to demonstrate to our investors that we are able to grow. Ultimately this - the transportation pie - it's a $6 trillion pie that we're going after. So I think we're going to have lots of investors behind us.

CHANG: Is part of that pie going to be self-driving cars, you think?

KHOSROWSHAHI: I think it certainly will be part of that pie. But it's not going to be the whole pie.

CHANG: Are you seeing self-driving cars expanding so much that you would replace the need to even have drivers?

KHOSROWSHAHI: I think that we're going to have driver partners for a very long time. A lot of people talk about automation replacing people, but what you actually see is automation and people forming a hybrid. And I think in our network there will be certain easy routes that perhaps a machine can cover, and there might be certain routes that are more complex, et cetera, that only a human can take care of.

CHANG: The reason I'm bringing up self-driving cars is because Uber took its self-driving test cars off the road in three cities after a woman, Elaine Herzberg, was killed by one of those cars in Tempe, Ariz., this year. Where exactly is your self-driving car program now? Do you have test cars back on the streets already?

KHOSROWSHAHI: We have test cars on the streets, but we have drivers driving them. We elected to take the cars off the road because we wanted to make absolutely certain that we took a top-to-bottom look at our safety practices and technology to make sure that when we continued, we continued in as safe a manner as possible.

CHANG: Your company has done a lot of talking about the benefits of Uber. But there's also an alternate view of Uber, and that view is this is a company that's led to more traffic congestion in major cities. It's undermining public transportation. And it's created a new workforce that often has low wages and no benefits. What do you say about that interpretation?

KHOSROWSHAHI: Well, I think you can always look at the bright side or the dark side of anything. But I think ultimately we bring opportunity to over 3 million driver partners, and on the riders' side democratizing transportation and bringing these transportation options to people who don't have alternatives, who may not live in the center of a city where there are plenty of cabs or there's mass transit. And we become that necessary element for folks to be able to get to where they want to go how they want to go.

CHANG: Dara Khosrowshahi is the CEO of Uber. Thank you very much for joining us.

KHOSROWSHAHI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.