Perhaps no Silicon Valley company in recent memory has grown so fast while causing so much controversy. But the scandals at ride-service startup, Uber, finally reached critical mass last week, forcing flamboyant CEO Travis Kalanick to resign.
CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.
Uber has been infamous for flouting city regulations and using hardball tactics that have left competitors crying foul. But those tactics that have also made Uber the world’s most valuable venture-backed company with a peak valuation of nearly $70 billion.
“They took that aggressive Silicon Valley, ‘We’ve got this vision, we want to make it happen’ to that level where it went a little too far,” Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst for TECHnalysis Research said. “And it’s kind of blown up in their face.”
Uber has been dogged by cases of insensitivity toward passengers who say they were victims of sexual assault. Employees also accuse the company of indifference to sexual harassment in the company workplace—something highlighted in a blog by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler.
That spurred an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He recommended, among other things, changing CEO Travis Kalanick’s responsibilities. Kalanick took a leave of absence, and soon after resigned.
“The thing that was so disturbing about Uber’s behavior was not only that these scandals kept happening and we kept finding out about these things. But no one was ever held accountable. No one was ever fired,” Sarah Lacy, founder of PandoMedia said. “But I can only imagine what would happen if my children started acting badly and instead of putting them in a timeout I just gave them more sugar, which was essentially what was happening in terms of the escalating valuations and the escalating capital that these guys were raising.”
PandoMedia Editor-in-Chief Sarah Lacy has for years written about Uber’s toxic culture. Her criticism even prompted Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael, who recently left the company, to propose digging up dirt on critical journalists like Lacy.
“Their plan was to try to smear and destroy me professionally and personally in ways that would never be traced back to them,” said Lacy. “These are all really creepy things. Opposition research isn’t Google-ing someone. We saw recently they had accessed health records of a rape victim in hopes to use those against her. These are ugly, ugly tactics.”
Uber has its hands full with other ongoing investigations. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether Uber has been using something called greyball software to avoid law enforcement. Automated vehicle company Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, is suing Uber over claims one of its former engineers stole thousands of secretive documents.
Menlo Ventures was an early investor in Uber.
“I’m gonna leave what Travis has said publicly that I think while Uber is incredible in many ways, there are some aspects of their culture that they want to change. And they’ve laid out a path. And I’m very optimistic they will execute on that path,” said Venky Ganesan, Managing Director of Menlo Ventures. “So we feel very optimistic. Every company goes through its ups and downs, but the fundamental value of how Uber is changing the world has not changed.”
“Frankly, I’d be concerned about the thousand employees who just signed their names to a petition that said they wanted Travis back. That does not seem to imply this company wants change,” said Lacy. “And if the company doesn’t want change, and the board who is mostly stacked with Travis Kalanick loyalists don’t want change, it’s hard to imagine how it’s going to happen.”
Names that have surfaced in conversations as potential replacements for Kalanick read like a who’s who of the tech world—Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and recently fired Ford CEO Mark Fields.
Whoever ends up running the company will need to turn around company culture while also steering Uber toward that elusive initial public offering.
Amy Zalman discusses what’s next for Uber after several executives resigned
CGTN’S Rachelle Akuffo spoke with Amy Zalman, professor of Strategic Foresight at Georgetown University, about what’s next for Uber after several executives resigned amid corporate culture controversy.