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An epic ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you’ slide was in Dara Khosrowshahi’s job pitch to Uber’s board

It was the best part of his presentation bid to become the CEO of the troubled car-hailing company.

New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
Dara Khosrowshahi should look up to see if any Travis bombs are headed his way.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty

There is not much that the board of Uber has been able to agree on over the last few months. Along with an ugly lawsuit between its ousted CEO Travis Kalanick and major investor Benchmark Capital that arrives in court tomorrow, its directors have been riven into so many factions on so many issues that it’s like watching a mash-up Arya-Sansa-Littlefinger face-off on high speed and backward.

To say the directors — who include ousted CEO Travis Kalanick — have been dysfunctional is perhaps the biggest understatement in tech you could make these days.

More accurate, in my humble opinion: They. Cray.

But they certainly all got quieted down quickly last Friday after Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi got to one particular slide in his presentation pitch in his bid to become the CEO of the troubled car-hailing company.

Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt had made a similar presentation that day too, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman would also hold talks with the board the next day. Khosrowshahi’s candidacy had not been known and he had never been the focus of the board until the weekend.

Now he was. While most of Khosrowshahi’s presentation — which was run from his computer — had to do with much of what you might expect from a longtime techie (artificial intelligence, better software, etc.), one screen was clearly a pretty big risk for the long-shot candidate to take and was much noticed by the directors.

It read simply, according to numerous sources familiar with the meeting who told me about it: Don’t call me, I’ll call you.

Finally, someone said it (and it had to be said). Which is to say, Khosrowshahi was clearly telling the people with the power to hire him that they would have to step off if he got the job — and let him do his job.

Khosrowshahi underscored the need for one CEO at Uber for clarity, said sources familiar with the interaction, noting it was the only way to run the company. The message: Kalanick was not going to have an outsized role at Uber, he would have more of a consultive one that would tap into his expertise and historical knowledge.

There is no doubt that — for all his myriad faults and his aggressive-veering-into-toxic management of the company — Kalanick is a talented entrepreneur and even a visionary of sorts. So garnering constructive input from him within limits (personally, I would build a wall) is probably a good idea for anyone who replaced him to seek.

Apparently, Khosrowshahi was not just talking about Kalanick though — sources said the slide also referred to the very meddlesome board of Uber. The unsaid message was that directors also had to stop with their micromanaging of the company and return to their main job, which is largely the hiring and firing of a CEO.

It’s not clear if Kalanick or the other directors were irked by the slide, although the board did vote in Khosrowshahi unanimously on Sunday. In keeping with the weirdness, the directors made a strange and sudden announcement that they had made the decision without naming him (Recode did that first soon after).

Now, the board has to actually hire Khosrowshahi. Sources said he has almost completed his deal to take the offer by the board as of tonight, largely because that was not negotiated as fully as it probably should have been when it was made.

But it will be done, Khosrowshahi said today at a press event in his current job as CEO of the online travel company, also noting when asked that he would continue to involve Kalanick at Uber. Curiously, he only used the term “budding,” for their nascent relationship and said little more.

So, for now, I am going with what Khosrowshahi was communicating with his slide: Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Let's hope Kalanick and the board of Uber really take heed of these wise words and cut the mishegas.

As for me — for this single sentiment and although I do not know him too well — I am already deeply in like with Khosrowshahi. Now, it’s up to the fractured board of Uber to heal themselves, actually give the well-regarded exec the job and then get out of his damn way.

(Oh, and no comments all around, which must come as a shockeroo to one and all.)

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