In any other industry, the sudden departure of two of its leaders in the space of 18 months might suggest something about the health of the sector. But online travel – with plenty of growth still ahead – is also one of the most fascinating and rapidly changing e-commerce sectors.
Technology and innovation continue to remake our marketplace.
Darren Huston's departure from The Priceline Group in April 2016 was a shock to most. But this week's news that Dara Khosrowshahi would trade the helm of Expedia Inc. for that of Uber is an out-of-left-field development, to say the least.
Or is it?
From an Uber perspective, Khosrowshahi is arguably one of the safest hands in the tech sector – appointed at a time when the company's reputation is in tatters and it desperately needs someone to not only steady the ship, but to figure out how to put it back on the right course.
Khosrowshahi has proven to have masterful organizational, strategic and financial skills. He has instilled a professional and unique (in a good way) culture across the Expedia family of brands that Uber – and its investors – is crying out for. As anyone who has seen his
interviews at The Phocuswright Conference or has had a chance to interact with him can attest to, he's far removed from the much-lamented "code bro" culture for which Silicon Valley has been famous – or infamous.
Cultural issues aside, Khosrowshahi brings an incredible track record and global experience. He has navigated Expedia through extraordinary changes, out-executed major competitors in the U.S., grown the company by more than 4x in gross bookings since he took the reins,
and has overseen some very successful moves (the acquisition and spinoff of TripAdvisor and the investment in Trivago are two that stand out). And his experience navigating global growth – including a retreat from China with the sale of eLong – will surely be helpful as Uber tries to figure out whether to
grow at all costs, or take a more measured path to profitability.
As Uber seeks to restore its brand, in almost every conceivable way (even the leak of the board's choice must be frustrating), Khosrowshahi is a smart and logical hire.
Travel's Uber Brand
Back at Expedia Inc., many will inevitably view his exit as surprising and a huge loss to the business. Under his tutelage, Expedia Inc. has grown from US$16 billion in gross bookings in 2005 to an eye-watering $72 billion last year. It's now the largest travel company – not
just online travel – by gross bookings.
But there's always plenty to do at an online travel business, especially one as large and diverse as Expedia. Khosrowshahi has, in fact, been gradually assembling a portfolio of businesses and a leadership structure that will give the group plenty of footing for future growth.
Succession planning – both human and strategic – has been taking place for years. The acquisition and integration of rental content from HomeAway into the main Expedia mothership will be another example of an executive who has steered a global giant through tough times and
ensured that the company's position and brands continue to adapt.
In short: What else is there for Khosrowshahi to do? Of course, most execs arrive at a moment when they can move on, feel that they've achieved what they set out to do and, most importantly in this case, need a new challenge.
At The Phocuswright Conference in November 2016, Khosrowshahi was asked if he was ready for another big acquisition.
"I need my peace," he replied.
What a difference nine months can make, with a war-torn Uber hardly the most obvious place to go for tranquillity.
Watch: Lorraine Sileo interviewing Dara Khosrowshahi
at The Phocuswright Conference 2016.
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