The amazing life of Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — from refugee to tech superstar

On Sunday, Uber’s board offered the top job at the company to Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Expedia.

The job, should he accept it, represents just another milestone for the 48-year old Khosrowshahi, who has lived an extraordinary life of both hardship and influence.

He is now firmly in the spotlight as he takes over the Valley’s most valuable startup – worth more than $60 billion -and one that’s been under a microscope due to its meteoric growth and its well-chronicled troubles.

Here’s the incredible story of Khosrowshahi’s journey from refugee to tech mogul:


Dara Khosrowshahi is 48. He was born in Iran, although he is now a US citizen. His last name is pronounced “Cause-Row-Sha-hee”


He was born into a prominent and wealthy family, founders of a major Iranian conglomerate involved in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food, distribution. During the Iranian revolution, the company was seized and nationalized by the new government and his extended family fled the country.

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Dara Khosrowshahi as a kid in Iran
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Dara Khosrowshahi via Bloomberg

Source: Canadian Business


Khosrowshahi arrived in the US when he was nine years old, an Iranian refugee. His family moved in with one of his uncles in Tarrytown, New York, a town with upscale roots on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, 25 miles north of Manhattan. Rockefeller had built a mansion there in 1906.

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Rockerfeller’s mansion in Tarrytown, NY, named “Kykuit”
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Wikipedia

He and his cousins attended an Ivy league private prep school in Tarrytown called Hackley School. Previous students included George Hamilton and oil billionaire Fred Koch. He remembers those early years in the US fondly. “For the grown-ups, it was a difficult transition. The kids were able to party together, so it was fun.”

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Hackley School
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Wikipedia

Source: Bloomberg


Another one of his uncles is the billionaire Hassan Khosrowshahi, who chose to go to Canada when the family fled from Iran. Hassan founded an electronics company called Future Shop (sold to Best Buy) and then created a conglomerate holding company that licenses pharmaceuticals and music.

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Canadian billionaire Hassan Khosrowshahi
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Wikipedia

Source: Canadian Business


All this means Khosrowshahi has a network of family members that are big wigs in the business and tech worlds well beyond Expedia …

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Expedia

For instance, his brother Kaveh Khosrowshahi is a managing director at Allen & Co., the investment bank best known for its ultra exclusive Sun Valley conference. A few cousins are Google execs. His cousin Amir Khosrowshahi is at Intel after Intel bought the AI company he co-founded, Nervana, last year for $400 million. His twin cousins Ali and Hadi Partovi sold their startup to MySpace back in 2009 for $20 million and went on to become power angels backing Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber, and Facebook and cofounding Code.org.

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The Partovi brothers
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Crunchbase

Source: Washington Post


Not that life after Iran was all rosy. When Khosrowshahi was 13, his father went back to Iran to care for his own father, and the country would not let him leave for six years.

Source: Bloomberg


After earning an electrical engineering degree at Ivy league school Brown University, Khosrowshahi began his career in finance, working at Allen & Co through the 1990s. He still often attends the firm’s famous Sun Valley conference.

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Khosrowshahi and Owen Van Natta, former CEO of MySpace at Sun Valley in 2014.
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Scott Olson / Staff

He took an exec role at USA Networks and launched its early streaming efforts. “I was a complete failure,” he said of the experience. “The cost of streaming content was higher than any advertising dollars you could earn. The better you did, the more you lost.”

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USA Network

Despite the humility of that statement, he wasn’t considered a failure. He was actually the protégé of media industry icon Barry Diller. USA changed its name to InterActiveCorp (IAC) and on July 2001 Diller and Khosrowshahi crafted a deal to buy Expedia from Microsoft for about $1.3 billion.

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Michael Seto/Business Insider

Source: New York Times


Two months later, before the deal closed, 9/11 happened. In addition to the tragic loss of 3,000 lives, the incident also stymied the travel industry. It was a seminal moment for Khosrowshahi, “We had the opportunity to pull out. Barry said, ‘People are going to keep living and traveling, so we’re in,” he said.

Source: Bloomberg


Khosrowshahi spent a few years as the chief finance/strategy guy at IAC until it spun Expedia out in 2005 with him as CEO and Diller as chairman.

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Dara Khosrowshahi
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Thomson Reuters

He’s been CEO ever since. In those 12 years, Expedia has become the largest online US travel agency. Revenues grew from $2.1 billion in in 2005 to $8.7 billion in 2016. Like his mentor Diller, and like others in his family, Khosrowshahi is a deal maker equipped to run a conglomerate. Expedia owns brands like Hotels.com, Orbitz, Trivago, HomeAway, Travelocity and others.

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Glassdoor/Exedia

The stock has done well recently, too, rising from $109 per share a year ago to well above the $140 level.

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Markets Insider

Expedia’s board was so happy with Khosrowshahi’s performance that in 2015 that it awarded him a massive $91 million stock grant, in addition to his nearly $4 million in salary and bonus, making him the highest paid exec on the S&P that year.

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Expedia

Source: SEC


There was a catch. This stock was part of a long-term employment contract that vested over five years, and another huge chunk of stock would only be granted if he stayed with the company until 2020 and the stock price hit $170.

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Kevork Djansezian / Staff

By some accounts, Khosrowshahi is walking away from as much as $180 million by leaving Expedia before this huge stock grant vests.

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Thomson Reuters

Source: Washington Post


Khosrowshahi, who has lived an affluent life, won’t likely take the Uber job unless he is well paid. And Uber has already made billionaires out of several of its early investors, based on the value of their stock. If Khosrowshahi performs well, he could turn himself into a billionaire, too.

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Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick
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Thomson Reuters

Khosrowshahi is comfortable in the public eye. He’s been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, speaking out against Trump’s immigration ban and his statements on Charlottesville. Khosrowshahi recently tweeted “I keep waiting for the moment when our Prez will rise to the expectations of his office and he fails, repeatedly.”

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Getty Images/Alex Wong

As a leader, he’s the opposite of Kalanick. He’s known as friendly, calm and drama free. His Expedia employees give him a 94% approval rating on Glassdoor.

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Expedia

And beyond that, he’s also a bona fide geek, who loves World of Warcraft, his Amazon Alexa and believes technologies like voice search will change the future.

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Reuters/Sam Mircovich

In 2012 he married Sydney Shapiro. The couple calls themselves “sci-fi geeks.” The wedding was held in Las Vegas and she was wearing a T-shirt from heavy metal band Slayer. They have four kids.

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Getty