Uber’s new CEO gave a master class on how to manage an ousted predecessor

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi isn’t afraid to set boundaries.

“What I told Travis very early on is that any new CEO needs space, and needs distance from the old CEO,” Khosrowshahi said at today’s DealBook Conference in New York, referring to Uber cofounder and former CEO Travis Kalanick. “You’ve got to let me engage with the team, engage with the company, engage with the culture. And I was a little worried about that conversation, but actually he took it really well.”

Khosrowshahi and Kalanick’s relationship has been the subject of much speculation since the former Expedia CEO took charge of Uber in August. Kalanick had resigned in June under pressure from investors, one of whom later sued him for “gross mismanagement.” His leadership came under scrutiny earlier this year after a former Uber employee published a blog post detailing the sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced in her year at the company.

At the DealBook conference on Thursday, Khosrowshahi made it clear that he respects Kalanick, but has no intention of being pushed around by Uber’s ousted founder.

“I’ve got to put my stamp on the company, the new team has to put the stamp on the company, and over a period of time I would be foolish not to use Travis’s incredible genius and his knowledge that really was largely responsible for getting the company to where it’s at,” he said.

Kalanick didn’t go quietly. In late September, he surprised Uber’s board by appointing two new members: former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain. Khosrowshahi called the move “unusual” and “disappointing.” More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Uber’s effort to close a multibillion-dollar investment from Japan’s SoftBank could be derailed by Kalanick’s quibbles with other Uber board members.

Khosrowshahi said the board appointees incident put him in a tough spot because Burns and Thain were great fits based on their resumés and experience. “The folks that he picked were great, but we didn’t like how he got there,” Khosrowshahi said. “He had his own personal reasons, I don’t want to recount them.”

Khosrowshahi said he has tried not to “take sides” in the drama among Uber’s board members, which dominated headlines about the company for much of the summer. “I’m not interested in what happened in the past, I’m interested in the company, and the employees, and the brand, and how we move forward,” he said.

Uber’s new CEO is also optimistic that the SoftBank deal will move forward, which SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on an earnings call earlier this week was “not decided yet.” “It hasn’t happened yet but it will,” Khosrowshahi said.