Barney Harford, the former chief executive officer of online travel site Orbitz, has been named chief operating officer at Uber Technologies Inc., making him the second-highest ranking executive at the ride-hailing company.
Harford, who sits on the board of airline company United Continental Holdings Inc., 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, PepsiCo Inc.’s general counsel and a former U.S. Justice Department official, as Uber’s chief legal officer.
“There is a broader societal benefit here and fundamentally that’s the kind of thing I’m attracted to,” Harford 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 in the online travel business. In 2004, Harford became president for Asia Pacific at Expedia Inc., where Khosrowshahi became CEO in 2005. When Harford took over troubled, debt-laden Orbitz Worldwide Inc. 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.”
Harford sold Orbitz to Expedia in 2015 for $1.6 billion. Harford has been working as a senior adviser to Khosrowshahi at Uber since October.
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 $1.5 billion in the third quarter of this year, up from $1.1 billion in the prior quarter. Net revenue increased to $2.01 billion in period, up 21 percent 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.
When Khosrowshahi started at Uber in September, he told employees he was leaning against picking a COO. Khosrowshahi joined Uber after a series of scandals forced the company’s co-founder Travis Kalanick to resign as CEO.
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. Uber 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 Group Corp. 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 David Trujillo, 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.”