Airbnb’s new chief business officer shares his top priorities for hosts and travelers

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Airbnb’s new chief business officer shares his top priorities for hosts and travelers

In this photo illustration, a key is seen in front of a computer screen displaying the Airbnb logo in Ankara, Turkiye on November 22, 2023.

Dilara Irem Sancar | Anadolu | Getty Images

As Airbnb’s recently appointed chief business officer, Dave Stephenson is playing a crucial role in the company’s future growth plans.

He’s also filling another role that is critical to that growth: an Airbnb host.

Stephenson, who has served as Airbnb‘s chief financial officer since 2019 after joining the company from Amazon, has hosted a mountain cabin outside of Seattle, Washington, for the last several years. While those who stay in his cabin might not be aware of his position within the company, Stephenson’s approach is indicative of what he sees ahead for Airbnb.

An avid skier and hiker, Stephenson is quick to share details of the best trails with his guests. The cabin is equipped with a pizza oven, and Stephenson shares his pizza dough recipe with guests as well, along with coffee shop recommendations and anything else they may need.

“I enjoy sharing what is an important place for me with others,” he said. “I think they appreciate that local knowledge and they kind of know how much I care, and that feels good as a guest, thinking ‘Wow, this host really cares about me and the experience.'”

Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky told employees in a memo that Stephenson’s transition into his new CBO role at the start of the year marked an “inflection point” for the company and a focus on growth across existing and new businesses.

“As we expand beyond our core, it will be paramount to have an executive dedicated to our long-term growth plans, and there’s nobody better than Dave to do this,” Chesky wrote in the memo.

For Stephenson, those long-term growth plans center on three key buckets: driving international expansion, growing the number of hosts on the platform and building out additional experiences and services.

International expansion is key for Airbnb, and Stephenson is spending plenty of time on the road helping facilitate that, whether that’s in Germany, South Korea or Brazil. Part of that is making sure that “all of the functions are working well together to deliver the results that we’d expect,” he said, whether that means the country-specific marketing plan resonates, or if there are other specific local aspects that need to be tweaked to reach success. For example, Stephenson said, in Germany there is a local accreditation that makes consumers more comfortable, something the company ensured it received. It also had the Weissenstein Palace — an 18th-century castle in Bavaria featured in the Netflix series “The Empress” —available for exclusive stays on Airbnb.

“It’s just making sure that we are being very deliberate in how we show up in a country,” he said.

As far as experiences go, it’s much of what Stephenson helped provide his guests in Washington: a reason to come back, not only to that property but to Airbnb.

“We’re going to continue to focus on the kind of unique things that we can do to make a guest experience better,” he said.

Airbnb is also looking to expand its services, making it easier to be a host as well as a guest. That could include helping hosts facilitate check-ins or helping them get the items they need for guests, like linens. For guests, that could be transportation to airports or even a fully stocked fridge upon arrival, he said.

“The deeper the relationship we build with the guests and with the hosts, the better we can understand what each of their needs are, and then the better we can do to match them up,” he said. “The more satisfied they are, the better experience they both have and the more likely the host is to stay [on Airbnb] and the more likely a guest wants to come back and try Airbnb in another place.”

Connecting finance with business results

When Stephenson joined Airbnb as its CFO in 2019, one of the things he said he tried to bring to the company was a “more operationally rigorous finance organization.”

In many ways, that meant operating much like a chief operating officer would, he said. “As CFOs, we think about the business metrics, the customer metrics, revenue metrics; all of these elements, how we actually run the business is just as important as the financials.”

The CFO role has evolved well beyond the traditional finance function to include a focus on operations, supply chain, and, increasingly, cybersecurity. A CFO role taking on additional responsibilities was true for Stephenson at Airbnb, who was also appointed head of employee experience in 2021, overseeing talent and leadership development, as well as recruiting and compensation.

Stephenson took on this new CBO role at the start of the year, while Ellie Mertz, previously Airbnb’s vice president of finance, began transitioning to replace him as CFO following the company’s quarterly earnings call in February.

“Finance is kind of Switzerland in terms of how it works and functions already,” Stephenson said. “The chief business officer in some ways is an extension of that, a neutral function that makes sure that all the other functions are working effectively together and are operating really well.”

Correction: Dave Stephenson started as Airbnb’s chief financial officer in 2019. An earlier version misstated the year.

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