Travis Kalanick, formerly Uber’s embattled CEO, resigned from the company this week due to massive investor pressure. And I say it’s long overdue. You don’t need a degree in history to know that while Kalanick has been at the helm of Uber, the company have been embroiled in upwards of 15 unrelated, newspaper-worthy scandals. The real question here is: why did his investors put up with him for this long?
Uber’s largest investor, Benchmark, led the rebellion. They were closely followed by Fidelity and Menlo Ventures. Together, the trio wrote Kalanick a letter entitled “Moving Uber Forward”, and soon after, Kalanick said that though he “loved Uber more than anything in the world”, he had “accepted the investors’ request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.”
It’s revealing that Kalanick admitted no responsibility when he stepped down. It’s also revealing that Kalanick has personally been at the centre of at least three of the company’s major scandals. It was Kalanick who made a sexist joke to an Esquire reporter in 2014. It was Kalanick who was caught on camera berating an Uber driver for daring to say that he had difficulty making a living. And yes, it was Kalanick whose visit to an escort bar in Seoul with a group of senior employees led to an HR complaint from a female marketing manager.
Some people will say that despite his controversies, Kalanick ran the company well. They’ll say he’s a visionary who must be allowed to live within his rules. They’ll say that Uber’s revenue has grown steadily through the scandals of the last three years. But how well might the company have done if they didn’t have a frat boy in charge? And anyway, there are signs that Kalanick was hurting the business. Uber’s U.S. rival Lyft have been gaining ground. Around the world, Uber have been picking fights – and losing – with regulators and law enforcement agencies. The company have spent a fortune expanding globally and may soon need to raise more cash. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is in a major lawsuit with Uber over the alleged theft of self-driving car technology, and many think that the lawsuit is a bigger threat to Uber than any of the scandals of the last three years.
The worrying thing for Uber and its many users is that Kalanick might not even be going away. The company say he is staying on board in a capacity that hasn’t yet been defined, and given the size of his shareholding, he can’t really be denied a position. What’s clear is that unless Uber hire a chief executive with ability, charisma and integrity, Kalanick might find his way back into the picture. After all, he doesn’t seem like the shy type now, does he?
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