When Dara Khosrowshahi took the wheel as Uber’s CEO in August, few knew his name. The ex–Expedia chief outmaneuvered favorites like Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Jeff Immelt of General Electric (GE, +0.44%), legendary executives with more recognizable public faces. His upset stunned onlookers and insiders alike, despite a formidable résumé and pedigree.
Business runs in Khosrowshahi’s blood. Uber’s new leader descends from a line of successful magnates who built their fortunes through a Tehran-based conglomerate (what’s left has been renamed Alborz Investment Group) that was torn from them during Iran’s revolution. The Shah fell; the family fled. Offshoots of the Khosrowshahi diaspora gathered in Westchester County, near New York City, in the late ’70s and ’80s to start life anew. And so, long before Khosrowshahi became boss of the embattled ride-hailing phenom, he ferried his uprooted relatives in a used car to Hackley, a private prep school in Tarrytown, N.Y., from their nearby homes.
That family carpool would become a who’s who of influencers in the tech industry. Khosrowshahi’s brother, Kaveh, once captain of the school soccer team, now works for Allen & Co., the prestigious investment firm that hosts the elite Sun Valley media and tech conference every year. Another brother, Mehrad, is president at the consulting firm Confida. Cousin Farzad, or “Fuzzy,” a soccer team cocaptain with Kaveh, would go on to create Google’s online spreadsheet service, Sheets, and lead engineering at G Suite, Google’s productivity app unit. Cousin Amir, once valedictorian, went on to found artificial intelligence startup Nervana, which last year sold for $400 million to Intel(INTC, -1.31%), where he now serves as tech chief of A.I. products.
The caliber of the crew left an impression even then. Ali and Hadi Partovi, twin brothers who left Iran five years after the revolution ended and joined their relatives in prep school, recall admiring their cousins’ popularity, athleticism, and academic rigor. “I always remember growing up and looking up to them and wishing I could be like them,” says Ali. Both he and his brother would sell respective companies to Microsoft(MSFT, -0.91%) for hundreds of millions of dollars in years to come. Later, they would also be early investors in Facebook (FB, +0.11%), Dropbox, Airbnb, and Uber, and cofounders of Code.org, a nonprofit that teaches computer programming skills.
The Midas touch of the Khosrowshahis seems to know no bounds. Younger relatives include Avid Larizadeh Duggan, a venture capitalist at GV (formerly Google Ventures) (GOOGL, -0.26%); Nima Badiey, head of business development at Pivotal, a spin-out of business tech giant EMC; Darian Shirazi, CEO and founder of marketing software startup Radius; along with more relatives at startups ClassPass and Zendesk. (Listing every family member’s career accomplishments here would be impossible because of space constraints.)
“The network of our family has grown stronger now with so many younger cousins,” says Hadi, who organizes the family’s reunions. Activities at these 100-person affairs include water balloon tosses and talent shows for attendees ranging in age from newborns to 90-year-olds.
Haleh Partovi, a second cousin of Dara’s who is now a high school math teacher (Amir says Haleh has “the most important job in the family” because of her work educating children), cherishes these gatherings. “The elders model such tremendous love, appreciation, and loyalty to one another,” she says. “It fosters it in the younger generations.”
As for Dara, his next big challenge will be bringing those same family values to scandal-ridden Uber. As the change agent recently told the New York Times, “The magic is when you’re playing on a winning team and have a great culture.”