San Francisco - Barney Harford, the former chief executive officer of online travel site Orbitz, has been named CEO at
Uber, making him the second-highest ranking executive at the ride-hailing company.
Harford, who sits on the board of airline company
United Continental, will oversee global ride-hailing
operations, marketing, customer support, and the company’s food-delivery
business. It’s the second major hire by Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who in October appointed
Tony West - Pepsi’s general counsel and a former US Justice
Department official - as chief legal officer.
“There is a broader societal benefit here and fundamentally that’s
the kind of thing I’m attracted to,” Harford, 45, said in an interview.
“It is very clear that the way the company was run before is not
acceptable and we absolutely need to change. I know Dara’s way of
operating and he knows mine.”
Harford has worked for and competed with Khosrowshahi, 48, in the
online travel business. In 2004, Harford became president for Asia
Expedia, where Khosrowshahi became CEO in 2005. When Harford took
over troubled, debt-laden Orbitz Worldwide in 2009, he became one
of his former boss’s chief rivals.
“Dara and I were both super competitive,” Harford said. “Through all
that we remained good friends. That’s just business. That’s just
competition. We compete aggressively but we compete in the right way.”
sold Orbitz to Expedia in 2015 for $1.6bn. Harford has been
working as a senior adviser to Khosrowshahi at Uber since October.
Harford’s appointment gives Uber another leader with extensive
experience in the travel business to help fix the company after a year
of scandals under co-founder Travis Kalanick.
Harford will have to help figure out how to turn Uber into a
profitable business, or at least stymie the company’s losses. Uber lost
$1.5bn in the third quarter of this year, up from $1.1bn in
the prior quarter. Net revenue increased to $2.01bn in period, up
21% from the previous quarter.
“Obviously Uber is a large global complex business and these two have
both proven their intellectual and leadership chops in large global
businesses,” said Altimeter Capital CEO
Brad Gerstner, who was a major shareholder in Orbitz and helped recruit
Harford to United’s board.
Khosrowshahi joined Uber after a series of scandals forced Kalanick
to resign as CEO. When Khosrowshahi started at Uber in September, he
told employees he was leaning against picking a COO.
Khosrowshahi’s first few months on the job convinced him that he had
to take a different role than the one he played at Expedia.
required a CEO who was more a public face of the company. Khosrowshahi
was meeting with regulators in London who had revoked Uber’s license
when he had to work with the board of directors over a deal for SoftBank to invest in the company. Later, he visited Brazil to win
over lawmakers there.
Bill Gurley, a former Uber board member, said venture capital firm
Benchmark ranked Harford among the tech industry’s top CEOs. “Having
someone who thinks obsessively about the right business model, the right
pricing strategy, all those things are super, super valuable,” Gurley
said. “I’ve been trying to find a way to work with him.”
Harford will oversee Uber’s trio of powerful regional general managers - Rachel Holt, Andrew Macdonald and
Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty - along with
Jason Droege, who heads food-delivery and other Uber businesses.
Uber’s board is searching for an independent chair. Board members
Wan Ling Martello and
Garrett Camp are spearheading that effort. Khosrowshahi is also looking to hire a chief financial officer.
“This is a business that is at really substantial scale that
continues to grow really attractively. It’s a business where the focus
really has been on growth rather than making the business function more
efficiently, more effectively,” Harford said.
“There are so many things
that are just calling out for us to go in and improve to achieve
operational discipline to allow us to streamline costs.”