The staff of Fortune and a panel of experts recently assembled our annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders. Here’s a profile of one of them.
Nine years ago, Brian Chesky and fellow cofounders Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk were hustling to get a business off the ground that most investors scoffed at. Today the disruptive “home-sharing” platform claims some 160 million “guest arrivals”—2 million people slept in Airbnb accommodations this past New Year’s Eve alone—and a private-market valuation of $31 billion.
As CEO, Chesky—the only one of the three founders with no prior business experience—has scaled with the company and then some, steering Airbnb through regulatory opposition, headline-generating safety incidents and an existential crisis around discriminatory behavior on its platform. He has led the business to new heights too, overseeing an ambitious expansion into “experiences,” events, and other services (coming soon, we’re told: flights) and leading Airbnb to something few unicorns can claim: profitability.
Last month Chesky added head of community to his title, a shift to cozy up to the people who control and deliver the product he sells: Airbnb’s hosts. The touchy-feely tactics set up a stark contrast to Airbnb’s sharing-economy alter-ego, Uber, under attack for an allegedly aggressive and sexist culture and for a leaked video showing CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver. Kalanick has said he needs leadership help. He might take a page from his fellow disrupter’s playbook.
“[Brian Chesky] feels it all the way through. I think he would be doing what he’s doing if he didn’t get paid a dime for it.”—Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway, from “The Airbnb Story” by Leigh Gallagher
This article is part of the 2017 World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list, our annual directory of world-changing leaders in business, government, philanthropy and beyond. Click here to see the entire package.