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Uber was supposed to hire a female COO, but didn't

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Ex-Orbitz CEO Barney Harford, a white man, named to position that once was supposed to go to a woman

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has found his new right-hand man — emphasis on the “man.” Barney Harford has been named chief operating officer of Uber, making him the second most powerful person at the beleaguered ride-hailing business, according to Bloomberg.

As COO, Harford will be in charge global ride-hailing operations, marketing, customer support, and Uber Eats. He will also oversee Uber’s triumvirate of powerful regional managers: North America’s Rachel Holt, Asia’s Andrew Macdonald, and Europe’s Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty.

Harford has been serving as an advisor to Khosrowshahi since the latter was named CEO of Uber in August. Interestingly, Harford is a former rival of Khosrowshahi’s too. The two men competed against each other over a decade ago when Harford was CEO of travel site Orbitz and Khosrowshahi was CEO of Expedia. Harford was working for Expedia when Khosrowshahi took over in 2005. Harford then left to become CEO of the debt-ridden Orbitz in 2009. Expedia later acquired Orbitz in 2015 for $1.6 billion.

“Dara and I were both super competitive,” Harford told Bloomberg. “Through all that we remained good friends. That’s just business. That’s just competition. We compete aggressively but we compete in the right way.” In a tweet, Khosrowshahi said “Business Santa arrived with an early gift for Uber,” in reference to his pick of Harford as the new COO.

Harford may have the business chops to help run Uber’s huge and wildly unprofitable business, but what he’s certainly not is a woman. Early this year when Travis Kalanick still held the reins at Uber, the hiring of a new COO was held up as an opportunity for Uber to reset the narrative surrounding its spiraling harassment and toxic culture scandals.

Kalanick said he was looking for “a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey,” while sources told Recode that Uber’s board favored a female executive. Names like former Disney COO Tom Staggs and CVS’ star exec Helena Foulkes were floated.

Harford is the second big name to be hired by Khosrowshahi. In October, he named a new chief legal officer: Tony West, PepsiCo Inc.’s general counsel and a former U.S. Justice Department official. Also, a man.