After only five months on the job, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO, gave a frank assessment of his tenure that has largely been spent cleaning up after his predecessor, Uber founder Travis Kalanick.
“It looked messy and it was messy,” Khosrowshahi said on stage at a Goldman Sachs technology conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Khosrowshahi’s comments come just days after Uber settled a lawsuit in which Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google parent Alphabet, had accused it of stealing trade secrets. Less than a week into the trial, Uber agreed to give Alphabet shares worth $245 million along with words of “regret” that stopped short of admitting guilt.
“It was a very, very significant distraction for the teams that were working on our autonomous technology,” Khosrowshahi explained about his decision to settle the case. He added that lawsuit had cast a dark cloud over the company and that it had put the autonomous vehicle team’s “really good work under a question mark.”
Waymo had alleged that Anthony Levandowski, one of its former employees, had taken Waymo’s trade secrets after leaving the company to found his own autonomous truck company, Otto. Later, Levandowski sold that company to Uber and allegedly handed those purloined documents over to the new owners to help with their own autonomous vehicle ambitions.
Khosrowshahi, formerly CEO at online travel service Expedia, is spending a lot of time expressing regret for Uber’s past behavior. Under Kalanick, Uber had run roughshod over regulators, faced accusations of rampant sexual harassment, and allegedly obtained medical records of a woman in who said an Uber driver in India had raped her (Uber recently settled a U.S. lawsuit that the woman had filed against the company).
But now, free of some of the legal distractions, Khosrowshahi says that he starting focus more on the business and stoke its rapid growth. He says that the perception of Uber, once in free fall, has finally stabilized and that “just getting the love back is a very important priority for us.”
Still, Khosrowshahi says that nothing could prepare him for becoming CEO, which he knew would be difficult from day one.
“The spotlight on this job is something that I thought I got, “ he says. “You’re in the news, but you don’t get it until you live it.”