Fast Company

BUILDING CHARACTER

AS CEO DARA KHOSROWSHAHI REMAKES UBER WITH AN EYE TOWARD AN IPO, HIS IRANIAN CHILDHOOD AND HERITAGE ARE ESSENTIAL TO UNDERSTANDING HOW HE LEADS.

WHEN DARA KHOSROWSHAHI WAS A CHILD, HE LIVED IN A SPRAWLING FAMILY COMPOUND in Farmanieh, a hilly enclave in northern Tehran. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and great-uncles had started a pharmaceutical business in the 1950s that had grown to become a massive conglomerate. The family was one of Iran’s wealthiest, one of the few whose fortunes weren’t tied to oil or the monarchy. Their compound had multiple houses, where Khosrowshahi’s extended family resided. It also had a soccer field, tennis courts, and multiple swimming pools, including a double-decker one where he, his two brothers, and many cousins liked to leap from the upper, shallower pool to the lower, deeper one.

In 1979, when Khosrowshahi was 9, violent protests had forced the country’s autocratic ruler, Mohammad Reza Shah, to flee, and ushered in a new, Islamic regime. The Khosrowshahi family had generally steered clear of politics, although one of Khosrowshahi’s great-uncles did serve as the shah’s Minister of Commerce between 1977 and 1978. Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the neighborhood. Khosrowshahi remembers a friendly guardsman letting him hold his AK-47, and being struck by the sheer weight of it. One day, the Revolutionary Guard stormed a house across the street, where the shah’s cousin lived. When they scaled a wall, one soldier’s gun discharged, spraying bullets through the Khosrowshahi family’s living room window. “We were all on the ground, terrified,” Khosrowshahi tells me. “That was when my mom said, ‘We’re leaving.’ I’ve never been back.”

Forty years later, on a sunny, breezy Thursday in mid-June, Khosrowshahi, now the CEO of Uber, is riding a bright-red bicycle through downtown San Francisco. He is wearing a gray sweater, blue-checked shirt, jeans, and black shoes. His shirtsleeves are perfectly cuffed, midway up his forearms. His jeans look like they’ve been ironed. His sweater is entirely lint-free.

He’s clearly enjoying himself, but he’s on this bike for a reason. In April, Uber acquired Jump, a dockless bike-sharing startup that’s a key part of an operational evolution for the company, from ride-hailing giant to multi-modal transportation platform. If all goes according to Khosrowshahi’s plan, soon we’ll no longer think of an Uber as merely the on-demand car that ferries you across town. Uber will become, as he puts it, “your indispensable travel tool. Any way you want to get around, open our app and we get you there.” After touring Jump’s warehouse earlier in the day, Khosrowshahi and I chose

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