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Jun 7, 2019

Uber operating, marketing chiefs leaving in leadership shake-up

Th Uber Technologies Inc. car service application

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After a tumultuous stock debut, Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi is parting ways with two top lieutenants in a major leadership overhaul. Barney Harford, the chief operating officer, and Rebecca Messina, the chief marketing officer, are both leaving the company, Uber said.

Uber had largely shielded Harford from the public spotlight after he was the subject of an internal review over what some employees described as racially insensitive remarks by the operating chief last year. The investigation was closed last year and found no evidence of discrimination, the company said. Behind the scenes, Harford led much of Uber’s business, though he remained a divisive figure.

Some Uber executives, particularly female leaders, bristled at working with Harford, who had a brusque management style, people familiar with the matter said. Rachel Holt, an influential executive, was among those who had issues with Harford’s leadership, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters. Meghan Joyce, a senior leader in the ride-hailing group under Harford, left Uber earlier this year. Andrew Macdonald, who had long operated with a high degree of independence, and who has been tapped to help oversee operations, regularly talked directly with Khosrowshahi instead of Harford, his immediate boss.

Holt declined to comment. Harford, Joyce and Macdonald did not respond to requests for comment.

In a letter to Uber staff on Friday, Harford thanked employees and outlined a few of the company’s signature accomplishments. "While I will greatly miss working with this incredible team on a day-to-day basis," he wrote, "I’m also looking forward to being in Seattle a bit more, where my wife and two young kids are based."

Khosrowshahi will now oversee the company’s core business, after spending much of the past two years traveling the world, meeting with government leaders and pitching prospective investors ahead of what became the biggest initial public offering on a U.S. exchange in five years. He also promoted two longtime Uber executives to help fill the void.

Uber has under-performed in its first month as a public company, as investors question its ability to someday turn a profit. In its first quarterly financial report last week, Uber posted a $1.01 billion loss. The stock closed Friday below the IPO price of $45 a share. Shares fell as much as 2.29% in extended trading after Bloomberg reported the executive departures.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that at every critical milestone, it’s important to step back and think about how best to organize for the future. Given that we’re a month past the IPO, now is one of those times,” Khosrowshahi wrote in an email Friday to employees. “I now have the ability to be even more involved in the day-to-day operations of our biggest businesses, the core platform of Rides and Eats, and have decided they should report directly to me.”

Uber’s board selected Khosrowshahi, then the CEO of Expedia Group Inc., to lead the company after a string of embarrassing public scandals in 2017. Internal investigations that year led to the dismissal of more than 20 employees. Harford, who had led travel site Orbitz Worldwide Inc., joined Khosrowshahi to help prep Uber for the IPO.

The two executives who will take over some responsibilities from the outgoing chiefs helped Uber navigate through the period of turmoil. Macdonald, who will lead operations, started at Uber in 2012 as a general manager in Toronto. Jill Hazelbaker, who runs policy and communications, will add the marketing department to her portfolio. Both were hired by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick and became trusted allies of Khosrowshahi.

Messina’s tenure at Uber lasted just nine months. She had climbed the ranks at Coca-Cola Co. and at Uber, was designated one of Khosrowshahi’s top executive recruits. Part of the reason for the change, Khosrowshahi wrote to staff, is that “marketing is so important to our business, and our brand continues to be challenged.”