Uber’s CEO is taking a leave of absence following release of investigation findings
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking a leave of absence from the company he built into one of the world’s biggest private businesses.
It’s not clear how long Kalanick will be away from Uber or who will be serving as interim head of the company, but the move signals the biggest shift yet for the ride-hailing giant since the emergence of allegations of systemic workplace dysfunction that included sexual harassment and discrimination.
Kalanick’s leave coincides with the release of a report based on an external investigation into Uber’s workplace culture that found serious issues throughout the organization. Uber has been beset by allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination for months, started by a blog post from a former Uber engineer.
The report based on the investigation, conducted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, recommended that Kalanick’s responsibilities be reviewed and reallocated. Uber’s board of directors, which includes media mogul Arianna Huffington, Uber cofounder Garrett Camp, and venture capitalist Bill Gurley, voted to approve all recommendations.
Sweeping changes have already been ongoing at Uber. The company has seen the departure of numerous top executives. Emil Michael, formerly senior vice president of business and known to be Kalanick’s right-hand man, resigned from the company Sunday.
The report comes after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti’s blog post from February brought to light her personal experience with sexual harassment and discrimination at the ride-hailing giant. Her claims included her manager discussing his sex life over work chat and having the company’s human resources department ignore her situation and then suggest that she move teams.
But after her viral blog post, the concerns were finally no longer ignored. More people stepped forward, and in just the day after, Uber had enlisted Holder to conduct an investigation into Uber’s workplace culture.
Kalanick revealed his decision to step down Tuesday, which he was debating in the hours before the news broke, according to Recode‘s Kara Swisher. Kalanick is also dealing with a personal tragedy of his mother unexpectedly passing from a boating accident last month, which he referred to in a company-wide memo.
“Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team,” Kalanick wrote in the memo sent to his team of more than 13,000 employees.
Kalanick referenced working on Uber 2.0, which he had described in a talk he gave in March as “the most just place to work” in the world. But Kalanick will be taking some time off “to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs,” he wrote.
Indeed, Kalanick was at the heart of many of the scandals that were exposed, including a visit to an escort-karaoke bar in Seoul and reviewing the stolen medical records of a rape victim in India.
Uber will continue to seek a chief operating officer.
Other recommendations from the investigation’s report include more ways to hold leaders accountable, such as with performance review and better record-keeping by the human resource department. Leadership members will have mandatory manager training, interview training, and leadership training.
Overall policy changes include updating its discrimination and harassment policies and, more specifically, prohibiting “romantic and intimate relationship” between people who report to each other.
These may seem obvious and small, but they are big changes for a company that spiked in growth over the last year.
“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” Liane Hornsey, chief human resources officer, said in a statement. “While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.”
The remaining leadership, including Huffington who has served as a figurehead after the viral blog post, is also making cultural changes outside of the recommendations.
“Our task now is to learn, rebuild and move forward together to write Uber’s next chapter,” Huffington said in a prepared statement. Her and Hornsey are reforming the company’s 14 cultural values and also decided to rename the company’s office “War Room” to the “Peace Room.”
The #DeleteUber movement, started in January, became simply a meme for many.
The ease of using Uber versus a taxi cab or public transportation, let alone owning a car made giving the service up entirely near impossible despite Kalanick’s interest in joining President Trump’s business advisory council and the sexual harassment and discrimination scandal that surfaced thanks to the blog post.
But real change has happened. We now know that change can be inspired by words, the words of Susan Fowler Rigetti, who took to her independent blog to share what she experienced at a tech giant in Silicon Valley.
Hornsey thanks susan Fowler, who is not in the room, for being the catalyst for all this change. employees applaud.
— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) June 13, 2017
The letter from Kalanick to Uber staff:
For the last eight years my life has always been about Uber. Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.
The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. 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.
During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company. I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly.
It’s hard to put a timeline on this – it may be shorter or longer than we might expect. Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes. The incredible outpouring of heartfelt notes and condolences from all of you have kept me strong but almost universally they have ended with ‘How can I help?’. My answer is simple. Do your life’s work in service to our mission. That gives me time with family. Put people first, that is my mom’s legacy. And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great.
See you soon,