In tapping Barney Harford, a former Expedia executive and the ex-CEO of Orbitz Worldwide, to run operations at Uber during the challenging times ahead, Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi picked someone whom he’s worked with and competed against for 16 years.
In fact, Harford sold Orbitz Worldwide to Khosrowshahi’s Expedia Inc. for $1.6 billion in 2015. Although Orbitz never challenged Expedia’s dominance in the U.S. market when Harford was Orbitz CEO, he was widely credited for modernizing a struggling online travel agency that had been on the brink of bankruptcy, and boosting its share price from $3.77 on the day he was appointed in 2009 to $12 per share when Expedia bought it.
Over the years, Khosrowshahi’s Expedia and Harford’s Orbitz Worldwide engaged in high-stake battles over the hotel market, which Expedia dominated; airline booking fees; private label client wins, and loyalty programs, to name a few areas.
Here’s the inside story of how Harford got picked as Uber COO, a position that saw dozens of candidates, including several high-profile Silicon Valley executives, vying for. It’s also a look at the relationships and career meanderings that connected Khosrowshahi, who took the reins at Uber in late August, and Harford over the years.
Harford starting talking to the new Uber CEO within days after Khosrowshahi relinquished his post as Expedia CEO and signed on to head up Uber. Harford has always been a data geek, and Khosrowshahi showed him some of Uber’s internal numbers to dig into. Meanwhile, conversations continued as Khosrowshahi returned to Seattle on weekends.
Khosrowshahi initially thought his CEO role would entail running operations, as well, but started realizing he would need help on the daily operations side. In early October, Harford came on board for two days per week at Uber as senior advisor to the CEO to help out with input on the core business, although the two initially discussed the possibility of Harford becoming Uber CFO, as opposed to the COO role he eventually took.
Harford busied himself with identifying the most important areas where improvements could be made at Uber. He then joined the Uber executive leadership team at an off-site meeting later in October, and during a break Khosrowshahi raised the idea of Harford joining Uber full-time. The company announced on December 20 the appointment of Harford as COO.
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