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CNBC Interview with Uber’s Chief Operating Officer, Barney Harford


The following is a transcript of a CNBC interview with Barney Harford, Uber's Chief Operating Officer, and CNBC's Hadley Gamble.

H: Barney thank you so much for joining CNBC. I want to kick off by asking you the question that everybody really wants to know and that is of course is Uber on track for an IPO in 2019?

B: Yeah we've announced that our plans are to IPO the company towards the end of 2019. And that's, that's the most recent that we've communicated but we're very excited about the position that the company is currently in.

H: Now when we talk about what happens next with regards to Uber, of course from major investor Softbank has made it pretty clear that they want you to focus on core markets. Why then are you looking to grow further here in the Middle East?

B: Well we see the core markets that we're in today as being all the markets that we currently operate in so we operate in North America, Latin America. We operate in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East North Africa Pakistan India North Asia Australia and New Zealand and these are all critical markets. After the Grab transaction that we announced recently in which we sold our South-East Asia business to Grab, we now have resources available that are allowing us to double down in critical competitive markets in particular India and the Middle East North Africa

H: That Grab transaction hasn't gone as smoothly as I'm sure you had hoped. Where are you with that today?

B: So we announced the transaction a couple of weeks ago which you announced at the same time we closed the transaction. So we are working with Grab to make sure that the integration goes as smoothly as possible.

H: What's the government's role there?

B: Well obviously the business is across a number of different markets. And so as part of that Grab is working and engaging with different governments across the region.

H: There are still questions from the regulators in Singapore itself.

B: You know I'm actually not that close to those specifics. We've closed the transaction. We're now working with Grab but Grab is taking the lead on those conversations.

H: When we look back at the Middle East your main competitor here in the region is of course Careem. Are there any plans to potentially buy out Careem in the future?

B: Well, you know what we've been very clear about is that going forward we have no interest in doing transactions for minority stakes. It would be crazy for us as a hypergrowth company to not engage in conversations about potential partnerships. But we've been very clear, the markets that we remain in today are core markets for us. We're doubling down on our investment and we're very committed to these markets.

H: In terms of the Grab scenario can we see that applied to Careem?

B: I think the Southeast Asia situation is very different. There were three players in that market. We had a smaller position. We have a very, we operate in a position of very clear strength here in the Middle East and North Africa market. As I said we've been very clear that we have no interest in doing minority deals going forward.

H: And when you look at the UAE in particular you're still not operating out of Abu Dhabi and that's of course the space where you'd like to be. What's happening there?

B: You know we continue to have conversations with different cities, with different states about opportunities to enter. There are certain criteria that are important for us from a regulatory perspective. And so you know, stay tuned

H: When you look at what's happening in the financial space you said that you wanted to bring and I quote "financial discipline to Uber". Are you there yet?

B: Well I think there's a lot of work underway. In my role as chief operating officer one of the key things is to make sure that as we operate around the world we are doing so as consistently as possible and as efficiently as possible. We also want to maintain the ability to be locally relevant and to be leaning in on growth opportunities. Making those two things happen at the same time is where the magic comes in. But it's, it's there's so much growth opportunity in these emerging markets that we're very focused on investing to achieve it.

H: The company lost four and a half a billion dollars last year. What do you see as the path to profitability?

B: Well I think there's a number of kind of components to the business results. We actually are in a fortunate position that a good number of the markets that we operate the ride sharing business today are already profitable. We are able to use the profits from those markets to allow us to invest on an indefinite basis in key growth markets such as the Middle East and North Africa where we've announced plans to double down investments.

H: But do you think your investors are happy to wait?

B: We believe that our investors are very comfortable. We are very comfortable as a company with the current investment trajectory because the opportunity that we're going after is so significant. In addition to the ride sharing business where we're expanding beyond Uber X and Uber Black, both full modalities introducing moto,scooter, pooled, shared ride functionalities. We believe that that breadth of opportunity. We recently announced the acquisition of Jump and ebike manufacturer and player. As we expand these opportunities, immense growth opportunity. We're also investing in the UberEats business. In just two and a half years we have managed to grow UberEats to be the largest food delivery platform outside of China in the world.

H: That's a pretty saturated business isn't it?

B: It's a business that in 2 1/2 years we've been able to build from zero to the largest player in the world and we're growing very fast.

H: How quickly is that profitable?

B: Excuse me.

H: How quickly will that be profitable?

B: We haven't announced specific profitability timing or targets. For now, we're very comfortable investing in that market. Again, there are markets that are already profitable for UberEats but we are doubling down, we're investing profits in new market expansion and in growth in these new markets.

H: Talk to me a little bit about that expansion because you're moving into Egypt as well. How difficult have you found it so far to work between these different countries here in the Middle East because really working in each country is different isn't it?

B: You know that that's part of the secret sauce at Uber but I think it's the, and I've been here six months so I'm still kind of learning but I think the team's done a phenomenal job of being able to balance local relevance with the benefits that come from being a global, a global player. So we were able to build technology, technology to go after really challenging problems on a global basis. But we're at the same time able to make sure that we have locally relevant solutions when it comes. When it comes to UberEats, I've been really pleased with the expansion that the team has been able to achieve across the region and we still have a lot of markets to go after going forward.

H: Walk me through what you're doing in Saudi Arabia because so many changes to the Saudi market coming off the back of these reforms from the crown prince certainly with women expected to be driving by June of this year. What's Uber's role in making that happen?

B: So we're very committed to the Saudi market. We're doing a number of things. We currently have 200,000 Saudi drivers who are active on the platform. We have over 1 million riders active on the platform. We also play an important role for international tourism. Over the course of last three months we had visitors from 77 different countries who are active on Uber. In terms of women's empowerment, it is a really important issue for us at Uber in general and we see ourselves as having the opportunity to play an important role in what the kingdom is doing to move forward economic women's economic empowerment. We've in fact launched a program, Masaruky, which has got two important strands. On the one hand we've announced an investment of a million Saudi riyal in a program to give driving instruction to economically underprivileged Saudi women who would like to learn to drive. We hope that some of those women drivers will ultimately become drivers on our platform.

We're also working, have been working to bring the benefits of the Uber platform to women in Saudi Arabia who need access to a transportation solution that can allow them to get from home to the workplace. This is a critical part of helping women play a more active role in economic activity in Saudi Arabia and to bring more women into the workplace. And this is something we're extremely committed to.

H: You mentioned company culture there as well as culture of course in Saudi Arabia. Walk me through the changes that you've seen at Uber since the last six months.

B: Yes. So in September of last year Dara Khosrowshahi came on board as the company's new CEO and I became involved as an adviser to Dara very soon thereafter. And I think as Daara has reinvented Uber 2.0 it really is a new direction for the company. We, Dara has made it very clear the number one priority of the company is safety. And so we've got a lot of initiatives around the company in terms of enhancing safety on the platform and focusing on safety broadly across the industry. We're also very focused on being great partners for the cities who host us and in which we live and operate, so substantial changes across the company, a real new direction for the company that Dara has been introducing.

H: Do you feel that this company still has a ways to go in getting where it wants to be?

B: Well look I think there's a lot of growth opportunity ahead of us but I'm very comfortable with, with the new direction. I think there's a lot of excitement amongst the team for the new direction that Dara's has been bringing.

H: Talk to me about what happens in London next week you're going to be appealing for your right to continue operating in London. What's your expectation there?

B: You know we've been very thoughtful in engaging with TFL in London and working to address their concerns. So we're very hopeful that next week will have a good outcome.

H: Do you think in retrospect that the company made some mistakes or didn't really think it through when it came to government relations more broadly, getting into these new markets?

B: Yeah I think that's the case. I think that as Dara and I look back at Uber 1.0, yeah I think it is the case that we could have approached some of these new markets differently. We're committed on a go forward basis to building strong and deep partnerships with the cities that host us.

H: When you look at what's happening more broadly in the Silicon Valley space. You had Mark Zuckerberg essentially saying that there was an open door for governments to have a role to play going forward. Are you worried at all as a company about regulations increasing in the United States?

B: Look, I think user data and the privacy of that data is a very high priority for us. And so that's something that we take very seriously and we're investing significantly in security measures to make sure that we keep users data private. More broadly in terms of regulations you know I think that our business as a ride sharing business, as a mobility platform, as a food delivery business, I think we, we are comfortable with the direction in which regulations are go, we're comfortable with our ability to engage with regulators and the city ,state and government level to make sure that we're able to plot a path that will address the needs and the opportunities that we can create by providing reliable affordable access to transportation and the economic opportunities that ensue while at the same time meeting the concerns the safety needs and law enforcement needs that governments have.

H: You mentioned many times there safety and how important that is to the company and the company culture at Uber today. You had an accident back a couple months ago in Arizona. Driverless car struck a woman. When you look at that today, were there mistakes made when it came to forward planning for driverless?

B: No that was a tragic situation in Tempe and we are very focused right now on the investigation that's underway. Given that NTSB investigation I can't comment about the specifics but it's very much something that we're very focused on because clearly it was a tragic incident.

H: When you look at how Europeans have moved forward in that space there's been a different mentality really to their American counterparts in terms of what happens next with driverless. They've really done it in a much more contained way. How do you see you Uber testing these driverless cars going forward?

B: You know we're still after the, after the accident, we're still re-evaluating what the right process is going forward with regard to autonomous.

H: And when you look at what happens next, where you're going to find that kind of profitability, are you looking to expand into new markets. What's the strategy there?

B: We're very focused on pursuing growth. We still see the mobility and the food delivery businesses as very immature. We see huge growth opportunity out there. We benefit from the fact that around the world we have a good number of markets that are already profitable which will allow us to double down on investments in key growth markets.

H: What about the bike sharing?

B: Bike sharing. So just a few weeks ago we announced our intention to acquire Jump Bike which is a company that has developed electric powered, electric assist bikes and they're already operational in San Francisco and Washington DC. What we've seen is the electric assist nature of these bikes is increasing the average stage length. Traditional bikes, people might use them for zero to two miles. But with the electric assist people are extending that stage length two to five miles. We believe that the very compelling price point behind these bikes combined with the accessibility can really come from the ride share business we have today.

H: And finally when you look at the business more broadly, when you look at companies that use data like Facebook like Uber we've seen elections that have been tampered with potentially. We've also seen that people have paid the ultimate price in testing for new products. What is the responsibility there of companies like Uber when it comes to the public. Are you worried that you've lost trust as a result of these things?

B: We take the privacy of our customers data incredibly seriously. We do not sell access to our customers data. We are completely focused on using our customers data to enhance the reliability and the affordability of the service that we're able to offer both to our writers and to our driver partners around the world.

H: Do you think that there is a further role for ever to play in terms of convincing the public going forward that the company is safe for the consumer?

B: I think we continue to have work to do from a branding perspective to build the global brand that is Uber and to be able to talk about the opportunity that we provide to riders and to driver partners around the world, the economic opportunities, the transportation opportunities so as I come in as COO and have responsibility amongst other things for our global marketing, I think it's very much of a of a of a clean slate in terms of the opportunity for us to build a very, very meaningful global brand.

H: So you are a global brand and you're looking to list in 2019. Could we potentially see a dual listing New York and London. Hong Kong?

B: We haven't announced any specifics around our IPO.

H: Well thank you so much Barney for joining CNBC.

B: Thank you.


For more information contact Jonathan Millman, EMEA Communications Executive: / 07788 307 996

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