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New Uber CEO Highlights Iranians in Tech

September 4, 2017

In Silicon Valley, all eyes are on Dara Khosrowshahi, the new CEO of Uber, who starts his turnaround of the ride-hailing firm on Tuesday.

But for Iranian Americans working in tech, Khosrowshahi's appointment is not just about who will guide Uber, a nearly $70 billion company that has searched since June for a new leader.

Khosrowshahi, 48, is Iranian American. Born in Tehran, he came to the U.S. when he was nine. His appointment highlights the prominence of people of Iranian descent in the tech industry at a time when many feel under increased scrutiny.

"The Persian Mafia in Tech gets $70B bigger!" noted one Iranian American tech investor.

Khosrowshahi's hiring prompted Ali Tahmaseb, a tech entrepreneur, to compile a list of more than 50 Iranian Americans who have founded companies, become tech investors or are in leadership roles at tech firms.

They include Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, and Falon Roz Fatemi, founder and chief executive of Node.io and, when she was 19, Google's youngest employee at the time.

Uber board's appointment of Khosrowshahi comes at a time when Iranian Americans are increasingly worried about how they are perceived, said Leila Austin, executive director at the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, a non profit organization based in Washington, D.C.

More than 80 percent of Iranian Americans in a recent survey said they worried about rising discrimination, double those had expressed the same concern in 2015. And 56 percent said they had personally experienced discrimination.

Khosrowshahi, until recently the chief executive at Expedia, spoke out against the Trump administration's efforts to restrict Iranians traveling to the U.S.

The Trump administration argues that its more restrictive visa and immigration policies will make the United States safer, and American citizens more prosperous.

In January, Khosrowshahi told his employees in a memo, obtained by Business Insider, that the travel ban would make the U.S. "ever so slightly less dangerous as a place to live, but it will certainly be seen as a smaller nation, one that is inward-looking versus forward thinking, reactionary versus visionary."

Khosrowshahi faces a long list of problems at Uber. Sexual harassment claims. An aggressive, break-things culture. Internal strife within the board.

And then there is the actual Uber business, which has transformed transportation worldwide. The company has faced more pressure from Lyft, its main U.S. competitor. It has given up in big global markets, ceding to rivals in China, Russia and India. In his first all-hands meeting with Uber employees, Khosrowshahi said the company planned to go public in 18 to 36 months.

No doubt Khosrowshahi's job at Uber is a big one, yet the enormity of the challenge adds to the Iranian community's sense of pride, said Pirooz Parvarandeh, a longtime Silicon Valley executive who created a nonprofit to gather and analyze data about Iranian Americans' contributions to the U.S.

Khosrowshahi's ascendancy at Uber is "symbolic of the value and service that Iranian Americans bring to America," he said.

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