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- 2020 should have been a celebratory year for Airbnb, a time when founder CEO Brian Chesky took the company public in one of the biggest tech IPOs of the decade.
- Instead COVID-19 hit and devastated the travel industry and Airbnb was forced to trim about 25% of its workforce and bench some of its more ambitious moonshot plans.
- As the world begins to ease travel restrictions, Airbnb is expected to eventually bounce back to its former glory, if it can execute well.
- It is up to these 19 Airbnb executives working under Chesky to make that happen.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
2020 should have been a crowning year for Airbnb founder CEO Brian Chesky, who was expecting to steer his home-sharing company through one of the biggest tech IPOs of the decade. Instead COVID-19 hit, cratering the travel industry and Airbnb’s business.
Chesky was forced to lay off 25% of the company in May, and to suspend ambitious expansion plans in sectors like transportation.
As Airbnb hunkers down and adapts to the pandemic, it has shifted its focus to offering longer-term rentals outside of its traditional stronghold in cities, and says that the strategy is working. When the world is ready to travel at normal levels again, Airbnb will have to continue to offer lodging options that cater to the new, post-coronavirus reality.
Chesky has a lot to think about and to plan for as he prepares Airbnb for its next chapter. Fortunately he’s got help.
These are the top executives that Chesky is leaning on as Airbnb rebuilds for the future.
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Nathan Blecharczyk, cofounder, chief strategy officer
Nathan Blecharczyk is one of Airbnb’s three cofounders. His original role was chief technology officer and he built the original engineering org, the data science, and performance marketing teams.
In the scrappy earlier days he was literally writing code, he said in an interview in 2015, but eventually his role as of today grew into looking at the bigger picture, the intersection of tech and strategy, such as developing payments, trust and safety systems and accountability systems.
Joe Gebbia, cofounder, head of Samara design studio
Joe Gebbia is one of the three cofounders.
As the now-famous story goes: he and Brian Chesky met in college earning their degrees in design. After college they moved to San Francisco and, in an effort to raise money, they bought a bunch of air mattresses and rented them out to attendees of a design conference. The idea for Airbnb was born.
Gebbia is passionate about design and was Airbnb’s original chief product officer.
Today he’s running Samara, Airbnb’s experimental product design team, a sort of Google X for Airbnb, where they work on potential new products. While other R&D areas faced deep cuts during the layoffs, Gebbia and team are apparently soldering on at Samara, working on projects ranging from architectural designs for homes purpose built for sharing, to urban planning.
Dave Stephenson, CFO
Dave Stephenson joined Airbnb in 2018 after a long career at Amazon where he rose to become CFO of its massive ecommerce consumer organization.
He landed at Airbnb after a nearly year-long search when the previous CFO left.
When Stephenson took the job, Airbnb looked like it was b-lining for an IPO. Instead, COVD-19 hit and his financial team had to whip together a pair of 1 billion dollar, mostly debt deals to bolster its balance sheet.
Stephenson remains on the hook for navigating the company to an eventual IPO, implementing the fiscal discipline that public companies must master, even though revenues were harpooned to the point that the company had to shed about 25% of its employees.
Ari Balogh, CTO
Aristotle “Ari” Balogh was another big Airbnb hire in the run-up to the planned IPO, joining from Google in December 2018. At Google, Balogh oversaw the engineering teams responsible for Google’s all-important search — some of the biggest, most reliable infrastructure in the world.
His mission at Airbnb is to add more AI and personalization, improving Airbnb’s payments tech, tax collection, fraud detection in over 190 countries, and exploring new areas, like augmented/virtual reality.
Balogh’s team will also have to handle the growing cloud and data center infrastructure needs as Airbnb’s business picks up following the pandemic.
Alex Schleifer, chief design officer
Airbnb founders were designers by training, so design has always been hugely important to the company
In 2015, Airbnb hired Alex Schleifer, who started a digital design firm as a teenager, grew it into a business acquired by Say Media in 2011 and then founded UX Magazine.
Since the COVID-19 crash, he and his team have been working like mad. They oversaw a major remix of Airbnb’s app to put COVID-19 info front-and-center as well as, online “experiences,” and a product that emphasized long-term stays over short-term stays.
“Our team mapped it out in under three weeks,” he told TechCrunch, adding that changing the design involves hundreds of people from operations to engineering. “Everything we need to do needs to be done in 60 languages.”
As travel opens up again, the app’s design, and his teams, will have to flex again.
Greg Greeley, President of Homes
Greg Greeley is the president of Airbnb’s crown jewel, the unit called “Homes” which comprises the more more than 7 million host listings in 100,000 cities throughout the world.
He’s the head of the the service most people think of when they use Airbnb to rent a room, condo or home.
Greeley oversees the myriad programs that support hosts and guests, for example the Super Host Relief fund, cleaning protocols, compliance tools, cancellation policies, as well as programs that will stimulate bookings as travel opens, including the Go Near marketing campaign for staycationers and Monthly stays for longer term, sublet-like travelers.
He also announced that the company was donating $500,000 ($250,000 each) to the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, as well as matching employee donations of up to $1,000 to civil rights organizations.
Greeley is another exec taken from Amazon, where he spent 18 years, helping the ecommerce giant build everything from its international expansion to its Prime service.
Joe Zadeh, chief stakeholder officer
Joe “Joebot” Zadeh, Airbnb’s 9th employee, began when the company was still working out of a San Francisco apartment. He was a software engineer first and then ran the product teams.
In January, 2018, CEO Brian Chesky penned a letter describing his vision for a 21st century company. In it he vowed to serve all “stakeholders” such as the communities impacted by Airbnb hosts.
It has now become Zadeh’s job to see that all stakeholders are cared for in everything the company does. How is this different from the CEO’s job, or the chief strategy officer’s job?
Zadeh is operational, rather than visionary. His small team oversees the nitty-gritty tactical decisions for stakeholders across the company’s various projects.
The company also vowed back then to issue an Annual Stakeholder Report, but given everything else that’s transpired since, such a report hasn’t yet materialized.
Beth Axelrod, VP of Employee Experience
Beth Axelrod, who joined Airbnb in 2017 after a decade at eBay, helped Airbnb do the impossible: Conduct a massive layoff and be applauded for how humane it was.
And now, as parts of the economy re-open and Airbnb show signs of growing again, she’ll have to strike a delicate balance, carefully rehiring while keeping budgets in check.
Axelrod has a boatload of credentials in her field as well, like board positions at recruiting and investment firms, degrees from Wharton and Yale.
She even penned a book in 2001 called the “War for Talent,” based on research she worked on while at consulting firm McKinsey, which predicted the attitude that underpins much of Silicon Valley’s hiring practices.
Catherine Powell, head of Experiences
Catherine Powell was poached from Disney’s parks division at the start of 2020 to run Airbnb’s “Experiences” which became an important lifeline for the company during the worst of the COVID-19 quarantine.
Experiences, which is one of CEO Brian Chesky’s pet projects, lets travellers book diverse activities in more than 1,000 cities like cooking classes and encounters with animals, often offered by the hosts. It’s a massive undertaking that involves local Airbnb managers.
When the pandemic hit, Powell had to shut down in-person experiences and quickly roll-out virtual ones instead, betting that such online experiences would prove entertaining to a bored public trapped indoors and lamenting cancelled vacation plans.
Notably, Experiences was not one of Airbnb’s “moonshot” businesses that were severely trimmed or eliminated during the layoffs. As the worldwide economy reopens, Experiences will have to maintain its momentum and pay for itself.
Tara Bunch, global head of operations
Despite the pandemic’s drain on Airbnb’s revenues, the company made an important new executive hire in May: Tara Bunch.
Bunch had been named to Business Insider’s 2016 list of the Most Powerful Female Engineers for her role running AppleCare, Apple’s technical-service and support organization. She had been at this Apple role since 2012 after a multi-decade career at HP, and had turned AppleCare into the envy of the customer support world, for its high satisfaction ratings.
Airbnb has nabbed her to run its customer service, Trust and Safety, and Payments teams. This is a global team covering 220 countries and payments in 63 currencies.
It will be her job, particularly with Trust and Safety, to assure a skittish public that using an Airbnb is safe as travel resumes, and to smooth away the kinds of customer service issues that are bound to crop up.
Clara Liang, VP & general manager for commercial and geographical operations
As part of the restructuring that took place when Airbnb slashed one-quarter of its workforce, Clara Liang took on a much bigger role at the company.
She’s now running Airbnb’s sales and business development worldwide. That means that managers of country regions, including the Americas (Jordi Torres), EMEA (Jeroen Merchiers) and APAC (Kum Hong Siew) report to her.
She’s been at Airbnb since 2016, after a long career at IBM. Prior to her current, expanded role, she was the General Manager for Airbnb’s Lux, Professional Hosting and Long Term Stays, which were three areas inside Airbnb that took big hits because of the pandemic.
Liang has been handed the enormous task of ensuring that business, especially internationally, comes back strong for the company. There’s a lot of lost ground to recover: World travel was down 97% in April, according to World Tourism Organization.
Jeroen Merchiers, regional director of EMEA
Jeroen Merchiers has been with Airbnb for seven years, working his way up from running Airbnb’s Spain and Portugal operations to become the head of all of Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Even before COVID-19 crashed the travel industry, Airbnb had its fair share of issues in the EMEA region. For instance, a year ago, ten European tourist cities in Europe jointly asked the European Union to help them regulate Airbnb, complaining that short-term rentals were reducing housing supply and driving up rents.
But with COVID-19, suddenly it is the hosts who are hurting as tourism has dried up.
Merchiers’ domain includes some of the largest tourist destinations in the world, and he faces a juggling act of international pandemic requirements and politics as he prepares Airbnb for the moment when travel resumes.
Kum Hong Siew, regional director of APAC
Kum Hong Siew runs Airbnb’s Asia Pacific unit, reporting to geographical operations VP Clara Liang.
He’s another exec with a long tenure at Airbnb, nearly 8 years, working his way up from a staffer in the legal department.
The APAC region is loaded with major international tourist destinations in China, Japan, and Australia, as well as being a magnet for business travel — all of which got smashed during COVID-19. It was an especially stinging turn of events given that the Asia unit had expected to see a windfall from the 2020 Olympics in Japan (the games have been delayed until 2021).
Asia has been suffering from the pandemic the longest and has been the slowest to open to international travelers, although Airbnb has apparently done well as locals travel within their regions. Japan, for instance, has offered subsidiaries to spur domestic travel and loosened restrictions to other countries in the region.
Aoife McArdle, global head of Airbnb Olympics
In November, 2019, Airbnb and The International Olympic Committee (IOC) signed a sweeping nine-year, five-games partnership valued at $500 million.
The deal falls under Aoife McArdle’s leadership and it involved ramping up hosts in Olympic cities, managing millions of accommodations for athletes and tourists, and creating experiences with athletes that gives athletes revenue streams, such as training or sightseeing with them.
The 2020 Olympics should have been a crown jewel for Airbnb this year. It was expected to bring 40 million visitors to Japan. Even though the pandemic means there will be no Olympics this summer, Airbnb did not dismantle McArdle’s Olympics team during the company’s recent layoffs. McArdle publicly reassured everyone, “Our commitment to the Olympic movement and the partnership will continue.”
And with the games now delayed until 2021, they could be the springboard for Airbnb’s return to its former revenue and growth trajectory.
Vlad Loktev, vice president of core hosts
Vlad Loktev has been with Airbnb for nearly 8 years, rising up from the product side of the house.
He previously led the team that created Airbnb Plus, where homes meet design and amenities standards via in-person inspections.
Just before the pandemic hit, the then-VP of hosts went on leave and never came back when she took a job as a CEO of a startup.
Loktev was promoted to this highly-visible role. His new role started with a crisis when COVID-19 struck, and CEO Brian Chesky allowed all guests to cancel reservations for full refunds irregardless of the hosts policies on the matter. Hosts were furious and panicked over their lost incomes.
Loktev is now tasked with guiding hosts into the post COVID-19 world, providing them with tools for everything they need from info on cleaning protocols to how to market their properties to local staycationers.
Margaret Richardson, Vice President, Trust
If there’s one word that best describes what Airbnb needs to swim through this economic crisis to safety, it’s this: trust. And that’s Margaret Richardson’s whole job.
She’s a lawyer who cut her teeth in the US Justice Department under Eric Holder when he was Attorney General, moving with him to the Covington & Burling law firm after he left office.
She leapt to Airbnb about four years ago, moving into global policy. She now leads the global team that creates policies and works with the product teams to enforce them.
Her task in these turbulent times is enormous, encompassing the need for health and safety policies that vary by locale, online and offline safety, fraud prevention, global law enforcement partnerships, as well as dealing with investigations, and crises.
Vanja Josifovski, CTO, Homes
In March, 2019, Vanja Josifovski left his job as Pinterest’s CFO to become the top technologist for Airbnb’s Homes unit.
While he is not the top CFO of the whole company, he is in charge of the technical side of Homes, Airbnb’s bread-and-butter unit, where Airbnb generates most of its revenue.
Josifovski’s mission is to bring together the engineering that supports 7 million host listings in 100,000 cities, along with new projects like injecting various systems with artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science.
As the world reopens for travel, this is the unit that Airbnb is banking on to revive first.
Ellie Mertz, VP of finance
Ellie Mertz has been with Airbnb for over seven years and for most of 2018, she was the company’s interim CFO. This after the previous CFO quit but and before Chesky hired Stephenson to take on the now-delayed IPO.
Instead of an IPO, Airbnb and its employees saw the travel industry implode.
To stay afloat, the company negotiated two new, mostly debt financing deals totaling over $2 billion. The second one includes a hefty 7.5% interest over five years, plus other fees.
Now the company must manage its finances to perfection, from forecasting to analysis, until travel resumes and home rental bookings pick up. This will be Mertz’s big task.
She’s got deep roots in internet tech finance. Before joining Airbnb, Mertz spent seven years at video streaming powerhouse Netflix, where she rose to become VP of finance and investor relations.
Melissa Thomas Hunt, head of diversity
About a year ago, Airbnb hired Melissa Thomas-Hunt to be its head of diversity, poaching her from academia where she had been Vice Provost of Vanderbilt University.
Airbnb was first called out over diversity issues on its platform in 2016, when people of color complained of being turned down by hosts.
In addition, like other tech companies, Airbnb’s employee base has remained largely white. As of the end of 2018, the latest data available, the company was 48% white, 38% Asian, 8% Latinx and 3.5% Black.
Earlier this month, in the wake of civil unrest, Airbnb promised to increase its diversity hiring and said managers will be handed diversity hiring and retention goals as the company rebuilds.
It will be up to Thomas-Hunt to lead these efforts.
Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Airbnb.