Uber's Travis 2.0 Takes Leave of Absence Amid Corporate Strife and Sweeping Changes
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive and all-star pariah, will take a leave of absence from the ride-hailing company, according to an internal memo sent to employees. The only question this raises is: why did it take him this long? Uber has been the subject of so much negative publicity in 2017, much of it circulating around Kalanick himself, that the CEO had dozens of primo opportunities to step down. Why wait until the fun-in-the-sun summer months to go on break?
The company email stated Kalanick needed time to grieve for his recently deceased mother, who passed away in May. It’s also been an ugly year for the CEO from a business perspective, who previously stated he would “get help” to become a better boss.
While Travis is on his somber vacation, sweeping corporate changes are taking place inside Uber. After being outed for its toxic workplace environment, problems with discrimination, and rampant allegations of sexual harassment, a change had to be made. However, some of them are downright laughable.
Among the silliest of these empty gestures is the renaming of the head office’s conference room. The meeting place, previously known as the “War Room,” will be renamed the “Peace Room” in an Orwellian attempt to avert future thought crimes. Bloomberg also reported that some of the firm’s fourteen “core values” will be amended to exclude — and these are real — lines like “Let Builders Build, Always Be Hustlin’, Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping, and Principled Confrontation.”
At a staff meeting last Tuesday, the company conveyed the results of a probe conducted by Eric Holder. His report indicated the company’s value system has allowed for egregious behavior in the workplace. It cited 47 corporate recommendations to improve the business, including rewriting Uber’s cultural values, creating an oversight committee, reducing alcohol consumption at work-related events, and prohibiting relationships between employees and their superiors.
Uber’s board met Sunday and voted unanimously to approve the recommendations.
Last week, the company announced it had fired 20 staff members after two separate investigations into 215 cases encompassing complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, drug use, and unprofessional behavior.
When Kalanick returns, it will be to a very different company. The board has also decided to diminish his role by giving some of the CEO’s responsibilities to a chief operating officer — a position Uber has been actively recruiting for but has yet to fill. Travis previously stated, after negative publicity erupted from a taped argument he had with an employee, that he needed help running the company and someone to assist him in making good decisions. The COO position would serve to do exactly that.
Emil Michael, senior vice president, had previously been one of Travis’ closest advisers but has left the company, according to Reuters. Uber hasn’t specified the reason for the departure, but Kalanick will be forced to guide the business’ reboot without him — and without many other key staff members.
“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here, rests on my shoulders,” Kalanick wrote in an email to his staff. “For Uber 2.0 to succeed, there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”
Travis 2.0 has a long way to go before his company is out of the woods. Even if the internal changes solve the management crisis, Uber 2.0’s autonomous car program is in jeopardy of being obliterated by the courts and drivers are coming out en masse with complaints of flubbed payroll calculations.
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You know this sounds familiar. American Apparel's first CEO had similar things happen, accusation of sexual misconduct, unhealthy workplace practices, lewd behavior etc. Sent the guy on a sabbatical, drove the company stock to near zero value, and fired the chap. A really effective method if one would want to avoid paying severance plus buy out his stocks.
It's extraordinarily common for founders to be pushed out and replaced by professional managers. Often the skills and mentality you need to found a company aren't the skills you need to transition it into a mature organisation.