A year in, Uber CEO works to rebuild company’s reputation

Ever since he stepped into his role as CEO a year ago, Dara Khosrowshahi has had to deal with wave after wave of major scandals and bad press. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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A year in, Uber CEO works to rebuild company’s reputation

  • It has made safety a top priority and on Wednesday, it revealed a suite of safety features for both drivers and passengers
  • Uber is also teaming up with Toyota to build self-driving cars for its ride-hailing service

NEW YORK: Ever since he stepped into his role as CEO a year ago, Dara Khosrowshahi has had to deal with wave after wave of major scandals and bad press, much of which he inherited from his predecessor, Travis Kalanick.
About two weeks after Khosrowshahi started his job, London’s transport regulator decided to revoke Uber’s license to operate, jeopardizing the regional business with 3.5 million passengers. A court eventually gave Uber a license, although much shorter than normal.
Later that year Uber was forced to come clean about covering up a major computer attack that stole personal information about more than 57 million customers and drivers. In February, Uber agreed to pay $245 million to Google’s self-driving car spinoff to end a legal brawl that aired out allegations that Uber stole technology.
Perhaps the biggest problem came in March when an Uber self-driving test vehicle ran down and killed a pedestrian in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Arizona. Later it was disclosed that the human backup driver in the Uber SUV was streaming the television show “The Voice” on her phone and looking downward just before the crash.
Under Khosrowshahi, Uber has been trying to shore up its reputation. It has made safety a top priority and on Wednesday, it revealed a suite of safety features for both drivers and passengers. Uber is also teaming up with Toyota to build self-driving cars for its ride-hailing service and will receive a $500 million investment from the Japanese automaker.
Khosrowshahi sat down with The Associated Press to talk about his first year as CEO and how he plans to steer the company. Answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: Aside from improving safety features, where do you see the company headed?
A: Uber was a ride-hailing service, but really we want to think about Uber as a broad transportation platform which includes ride-hailing, Uber Eats, e-bikes, scooters — and eventually we’re going to integrate with mass transit. So if you work in a city and if you want to get from point A to point B, we want you to think about Uber. We ultimately want to be your one-stop shop for transportation.
Q: You’ve at Uber a year, and from the moment you walked through the door there have been problems. When do you feel like you’ve reached the point where you’ve stopped repairing the damage of your predecessor and are really making your mark on the company?
A: My predecessor made mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes as well. The fact is that I’ve inherited an incredible company with incredible talent. My predecessor and his team built a company that’s a verb. So no one’s perfect and there’s a lot that we’ve undertaken to fix. We have rebuilt the culture of the company, we have reprioritized safety as a number one priority for the company...I can tell you that a year in, I’m thrilled to be here and I’ve got a ton of work to do.
Q: What’s the timeline for taking the company public, and do you think you can do it without being profitable?
A: We’re looking at the second half of next year toward the end of the year. There are very few companies of our size that have the kind of growth rate or exciting new businesses like Uber Eats within the portfolio, and we’re showing progress toward profitability. We have to show a path to profitability.
Q: What about the driverless car program? Is Toyota going to run it, and what are the plans for Toyota’s $500 million investment?
A: We have an incredibly talented in-house team of engineers who are building hardware, software and operations to make self-driving cars a reality in a safe manner. An advantage we have now is we’re building self-driving technology while we have a live network in place, and ultimately we think there’s going to be a hybrid of self-driving technology and human-driven technology. We wanted to bring Toyota in as a valuable partner. Toyota is bringing in special cars that are going to be electric and that are built for ride sharing in urban destinations. Their expertise in self-driving and car manufacturing and our expertise with advanced technologies and our network will be an unbeatable combination.
Q: Do you think that Toyota will help in terms of rebuilding the trust in Uber’s self-driving program after what happened in Phoenix?
A: I think Toyota’s investment in us and their partnership with us speaks volumes about our efforts and their efforts. We have a lot to learn from Toyota in terms of manufacturing, technology, brand and safety. We’re here to learn, and the partnership is off to a great start.


Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Updated 16 November 2018
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Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.