Farhad’s and Nick’s Week in Review: Uber’s New Boss and Amazon’s New Supermarket

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By Sunday morning it looked like Whitman had the whole thing locked up. Then the worm turned. According to Mike, Whitman kept pushing board members to make changes that would curb Kalanick’s power — and it appears her tactics backfired.

Nick: It’s déjà vu all over again. Whitman has a history of being in situations like this. In 2005, Walt Disney was looking for a successor for Michael Eisner, its chief executive at the time. The company seemed to be on the verge of naming Whitman to the job, but she decided to stay as the head of eBay, in part because Disney was taking too long to select a new leader, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time. It wasn’t entirely surprising to see the Uber gig fall through.

Farhad: Now she’ll have more time to take another stab at political office.

Anyway, with Immelt out of the way and Whitman overplaying her hand, the mystery third person got the nod. He is Dara Khosrowshahi, who has run the online travel company Expedia since 2005. And now, out of nowhere, he’s Uber’s new C.E.O. — and so far, he’s been getting wide praise from many analysts. (Khosrowshahi is also on the board of The New York Times Company.)

To me, Uber’s board sounds as dysfunctional as a brunch between the Lannisters and the Starks on Game of Thrones, but isn’t it kind of interesting that the process yielded a pick who seems pretty reasonable?

Nick: I’m going to be a contrarian. Aside from the leaks of candidate names, which are good for us storytellers, I don’t think the hunt for a new C.E.O. was all that messy. You kind of hope there is vigorous debate on the board when they’re picking a new leader. Of all the dysfunctional, wacky stuff that has gone on at Uber, I wouldn’t even put the C.E.O. search in the Top 5. That’s grading on a curve though.

Farhad: One more thing on Uber. On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the lawsuit that Benchmark had filed against Kalanick should now be moved to arbitration. This makes it easier for Kalanick to shield any unsettling facts from public view. It might also allow both sides to back down more easily — and give Uber a chance to become something of a more normal, less-dramatic company soon. Or not.

Nick: I wonder if Uber could become militantly boring now. The crazy at that company must be exhausting for everyone — board members, management, investors, employees. I listened to the leaked audio of Khosrowshahi’s remarks to Uber employees this week when his appointment was official. The way he hat-tipped all the warring factions around the company made me think he would make a serious effort at peace. On the other hand, recorded audio leaked of the new C.E.O.’s remarks. Maybe I won’t put away the popcorn quite yet.

Amazon Whole Foods is here, and it’s cheap

Farhad O.K., let’s move to your neck of the woods: Amazon. You had an interesting story about how Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s C.E.O., reached out to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s C.E.O., to push for the two companies to integrate their voice assistants, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana.

I was surprised by the move; it’s a rare moment of cooperation among tech behemoths. One thing I wondered is if it presaged some larger cooperation between the two, on matters even beyond voice assistants. What do you think?

Nick: I don’t see major partnerships for the two companies down the line. They’re serious, respectful rivals in cloud computing. I think part of what drove this relationship is that both are facing real roadblocks to getting people using their assistants outside homes and offices. Microsoft and Amazon are both weak in mobile devices. If they can somehow persuade Apple and Google to join their party, it might be easier to get people using Alexa and Cortana through smartphones

Farhad: Then we have Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, which just closed. To mark the kickoff, Amazon cut prices on a variety of Whole Foods staples. I went to my local Whole Foods around lunchtime yesterday and found it unusually packed. But have you been able to glean anything else about Amazon’s long-term plans for Whole Foods, beyond this marketing push?

Nick: The initial price cuts were a way to get curiosity seekers in the door on day one, which seems to have worked. Amazon has already talked about various plans to integrate Amazon services with Whole Foods, like making Amazon Prime the loyalty program for the stores.

Checkout lines are the single most annoying experience everyone I know has at supermarkets. Amazon has insisted they won’t use the cashier-free checkout technology they’re testing at their Amazon Go convenience store in Seattle to put people out of work. But if they can get the system working smoothly, I could see Amazon sticking to their promise by giving cashiers new roles inside Whole Foods stores — for example, spending more time answering customer questions.

And if they can prove this works through Whole Foods, what’s to stop Amazon from selling the entire system to other retailers, the way they do with cloud computing services?

Farhad: Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about that. See, that’s what’s great about having you here instead of Mike, Nick. You say smart stuff!

Well, thanks for joining me. Talk soon!

Nick: See ya!

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