Everyone gets a little adrenaline rush out of sitting on the sidelines of drama — whether it’s primetime TV shows or feuds on your Twitter timeline.
Maybe that’s why Uber is currently partaking in a Shakespearean-level leadership upheaval: it could be all part of an attention-grabbing marketing campaign. Or that is the most positive — and ridiculous — spin that’s been put on the company really just swimming in scandals.
Some of the recent headline-grabbers include CEO Travis Kalanick cursing and yelling at his driver Fawzi Kamel after Kamel shared his grievances about drivers’ pay in March (which was all caught in video) and the leaked memo penned by Kalanick that includes guidelines discouraging sex amongst co-workers, followed by the line “Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML [Fuck My Life]” amongst other similar phrases that would seem more appropriate coming out of a drunk teenager’s mouth. The company’s methods of dodging App Store restrictions were so flagrant that Tim Cook is said to have personally had words.
But that’s not the worst of it. It’s really not even the beginning.
A 13-page report of recommendations for changes in Uber’s company culture, leadership style and management was released earlier this week by the law firm Covington & Burling. The firm was appointed to oversee an objective review of the company by its Board of Directors after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post about her troubles while employed there — including sexual harassment and several mishandled human resources requests.
The report says that Uber should implement a “robust and effective” complaint process and mandatory training for positions such as senior leaders, managers and human resources employees — two things so fundamental, that you wonder how the company didn’t have them in place before. On the bright side, Uber apparently offers a catered dinner for employees, but they struggle to even get that right. The law firm thinks that timings should be changed so people can get home to their families at a more reasonable hour.
The report’s most telling recommendation is probably what the law firm chose to address first: to “review and reallocate the responsibilities of Travis Kalanick.” It appears the contentious business leader got the message, considering he announced an indefinite leave of absence from the company this week.
In an email Kalanick sent to employees to announce his decision, he wrote that he must work on “Travis 2.0” to work on “Uber 2.0.” and mentions how hard losing a loved one is — his mother passed a couple weeks ago and the burial was Friday.
Sympathy should be given when necessary, but so should accountability. And Uber’s questionable credibility doesn’t start or end with Kalanick’s note (which may actually mean nothing, considering a share buyback program gives him a stranglehold over the company, according to the New York Times).
Within the last week, three big names in the company have resigned for reasons that aren’t prettier than any of Kalanick’s antics. Eric Alexander, Uber’s former head in Asia, was fired because he obtained and showed other executives the medical records of a woman raped by an Uber driver in India. Emil Michael also left his position as Uber’s senior vice president of business on Monday. He is known for threatening to dig up dirt on journalists investigating the company and visiting a South Korean escort bar with other Uber executives. Michael is also one of the two executives Alexander showed the rape victim’s medical records to — the other was Kalanick. And a former member of Uber’s board of directors, David Bonderman, resigned on Tuesday after making a sexist remark during a meeting about avoiding sexism in company culture.
Not to mention more than 20 employees were fired last week after another law firm, Perkins Coie, investigated 215 human-resources claims.
With all that being said, it’s not clear if Uber’s executive team or its public relations staff have the worst luck right now. But if actions do speak louder than words, the company’s prior senior leaders are sending a message loud and clear: jump ship or accept you’ll sink with it.