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Uber’s CEO almost said no to the job—then Spotify’s CEO convinced him to take it

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi addresses the audience during the keynote at the start an Uber products launch in San Francisco, California on September 26, 2019.
Philip Pacheco | Afp | Getty Images

When Uber first approached now-CEO Dara Khosrowshahi about leading the company, he ignored the call. 

It was 2017, and the rideshare app was going through a "historically difficult time," Khosrowshahi told LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky in a recent interview. Uber was facing a litany of problems, including sexual harassment allegations, an FBI probe and a slew of firings related to a workplace culture investigation, just to name a few.

"When I first got the call, my first thought was, 'Heck no,'" he said. "I thought, 'Why would I ever do that?'" 

Khosrowshahi wasn't on the market for a new job, either. He was entering his twelfth year as Expedia's CEO, and still "having a great time," he told Roslansky. 

He was prepared to call Uber's board of directors and take himself out of the running for CEO — until one conversation with a friend changed his mind. 

That friend happened to be Daniel Ek, founder and CEO of Spotify.

The pair were catching up over cocktails at an investors conference when Ek asked if Uber had called him yet, revealing that he had recommended Khosrowshahi for the CEO gig. 

Khosrowshahi admitted that he was on the fence about joining Uber because he was happy at Expedia. Then, "Daniel looked at me with his cold, Scandinavian eyes and said, 'You know Dara, since when is life about being happy? It's about having impact. You have to make an impact,'" he said. 

That conversation with Ek was a "special moment" that made Khosrowshahi rethink what he wanted out of his career, he added. Even though he was content leading Expedia, Khosrowshahi realized that steering Uber, one of the most influential, fastest-growing businesses at the time, through its string of crises, would allow him to have an "outsized impact" on the world.

The following morning, Khosrowshahi called the head hunter back — and in August 2017, he was announced as Uber's new CEO, after a unanimous vote from the board. 

Early on in his tenure at Uber, Khosrowshahi revamped the company's cultural norms, ditching the "growth at all costs" ethos popularized by Travis Kalanick, his predecessor and the ridesharing app's co-founder, in favor of principles like "Build with heart" and "Do the right thing."

While Uber continues to face challenges ranging from lawsuits to driver strikes, the company's public image and profitability has significantly improved under Khosrowshahi's leadership. 

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