What’s Been Happening?
In February, a 3000 word blog post was written by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler which detailed Uber’s toxic company culture. It’s a story of a company that was portrayed as a global start up success in public but revealed as an organisation in complete, unrelenting chaos by the author. She alleged that there was constant harassment and discrimination and when she raised the issue with management, they were dismissed.
Around the same time, a video emerged of Mr Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about lowering prices for its black car service. He later issued a profound apology in which he stated that he must “fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”. It was a bit too late though, as the damage was done.
In the wake of controversies, a number of senior Uber staff resigned in March, including Uber President Jeff Jones, SVP of engineering Amit Singhal and Uber VP product and growth Ed Baker.
Earlier this month, Mr Kalanick said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. One of the reasons cited was the loss of his mother in a recent boating accident. Another reason could have been to facilitate the transition of responsibilities from Kalanick to other members of senior management, in line with recommendations issued by US Attorney General Eric Holder in his report to Uber to overcome its ethics and leadership troubles.
A shareholder revolt led by five of Uber’s most prominent investors has resulted in Kalanick agreeing to resign. In a letter titled, “Moving Uber Forward” the investors wrote to the CEO that he must immediately leave and the company needed a change in leadership. In addition, improved oversight was requested by filling two of the three empty board seats with independent directors and that a new CEO and experienced CFO be found immediately. Although Travis has resigned, he will remain on Uber’s board of directors and still hold a significant stake in the company.
As the search for a new CEO commences so does speculation. One rumour is that US Ex-President Barack Obama may become the new CEO and may be just what Uber needs to stop the company from completely falling apart. There has already been speculation that Obama wanted to enter the tech industry and a connection between Obama and Uber is David Plouffe who was the campaign manager for his 2008 presidential campaign. Later on, he became a policy advisor for Uber.
Sheryl Sandberg is another name that is on the candidate list for CEO of Uber. Sandberg has extensive experience in the tech industry, having served nine years as COO at Facebook. Uber directors, including Arianna Huffington, are increasingly convinced that a woman at the helm would be well suited to fix Uber’s mess. However, sources close to Sandberg say that she’s not interested and will be staying with Facebook.
The search for the CEO and the CFO is more complicated than it would seem, as finding the right individual with experience leading a disruptive business model like Uber’s is far and few between. Once the leadership team has been restructured, Uber may have a chance of being in the spotlight again for all the right reasons instead.