Uber Must Find A New CEO After Travis Kalanick Resigns

Jun 21, 2017
Originally published on June 23, 2017 6:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - a founder of Uber left his job as CEO last night. The removal of Travis Kalanick follows a shareholder revolt and many questions about the workplace environment. Early this year, you may recall a former Uber engineer blogged about how the company mishandled her sexual harassment complaints. Other people then came forward, and then investigators found widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. NPR's business editor Uri Berliner is here. Hi, there.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what made it clear that the man at the top had to go?

INSKEEP: Well, what happened was big-time investors - major Silicon Valley venture capitalists - decided that it was time for him to go. These investors have huge stakes in Uber. Uber is valued at nearly $70 billion, making it the most highly-valued private company in America.

INSKEEP: So they just saw him as a risk to their investment?

BERLINER: Clearly, yeah. I mean, he - so much trouble at this company, and the man at the top was connected to so much of it.

INSKEEP: Well, in what way? What evidence pointed to Kalanick as somebody who would have encouraged a particular culture or participated in it?

BERLINER: Well, there's no evidence that he encouraged sexual harassment. But it's clear that he was very aggressive and abrasive in his quest to make this company so large and influential. His whole motto was ask for forgiveness, not for permission. As he opened up Uber services in city after city, confronting regulators, ignoring local rules, fighting with taxi commissions, he was very confrontational.

INSKEEP: Let's just remind people who maybe haven't used Uber. This is essentially a taxi company but technically not so. They were competing with taxi companies by encouraging people to drive using this mobile app and going around a lot of the existing rules - allegedly violating the existing rules - proudly so. They were disruptors.

BERLINER: Exactly, I mean, a lot of Silicon Valley companies say they're disruptors. Uber really is a disruptor. And it did it with great support from consumers. Consumers love this app. They love this convenience of this ride-hailing service. So Kalanick and his fellow executives felt like, as long as consumers - people are using this, as long as we're growing, it really doesn't matter if we bruise a few feelings - if people get hurt.

INSKEEP: Apparently, it does matter.

BERLINER: Well, it turns out it did. You know, the growth of this company - the success of it - could not override all these concerns about the culture, the way people were treated there and the tactics this company used.

INSKEEP: This sounds like a lot more than sexual harassment. This wasn't just what was happening at company headquarters, but what was happening around the country.

BERLINER: No, this goes way beyond sexual harassment. I mean, Uber has a number of legal battles on its hands. It's been sued by Google's self-driving car unit over a claim that one of the Uber engineers stole its self-driving car secrets. It's got a - it's being investigated by federal authorities over a tool it used to evade regulators. And then it's got this fundamental problem with drivers.

Drivers - you know, Uber has always said, you can be your own boss at Uber. But many of the drivers actually don't feel that way. They feel that Uber controls them, that Uber controls their work conditions, that Uber tracks their driving and that drivers don't really know how much they're going to be paid and that Uber actually can even fire them just by this app without a human being being involved.

INSKEEP: And we've heard a lot of that in NPR's own reporting. So what's Uber do now that the CEO is out the door?

BERLINER: Well, it's a mess right now. It really is. Right now, Uber is being run by 14 executives.

INSKEEP: What?

BERLINER: A committee - a committee, which is probably the worst thing you could imagine in Silicon Valley. They'll need to hire a CEO. They also need to hire a chief operating officer, general counsel, chief marketing officer. Key positions are open there. Travis Kalanick's top lieutenant was ousted last week, so there is a - there's just a mess right there at the top.

INSKEEP: Maybe they'll come out and reach out to you to see if you want the job.

BERLINER: (Laughter) Right. How about you, Steve Inskeep?

INSKEEP: No, no. That's NPR business editor Uri Berliner.

BERLINER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.