Embattled Uber CEO Kalanick to take leave, doesn’t disclose return date

14 Jun 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Image: Debby Wong/Shutterstock

Management committee to run Uber as CEO takes a step back.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has confirmed he is to take a leave of absence from the ride-sharing company he co-founded, after a litany of scandals have raised serious questions about the workplace culture.

In an email sent to employees, Kalanick wrote: “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.”

Uber will be run by a management committee for the duration of the leave.

Kalanick has not set a date for his return but when he does come back, the company will strip him of some of his duties and appoint an independent chair.

This week, Uber conveyed the results of a probe conducted by former US attorney general Eric Holder into allegations of harassment and discrimination at the firm.

The report, which was studied by Uber’s board at a pivotal meeting on Sunday (11 June), recommends 47 courses of action, including rewriting the company’s cultural values, reducing the amount of alcohol at company events, and prohibiting intimate relationships between employees and their bosses.

Earlier this week, Kalanick’s second-in-command and a member of his so-called ‘A-Team’, Emil Michael, left the company. Michael was part of the leadership group that included Eric Alexander and Thuan Pham, Uber’s chief technology officer, and he was understood to have been the second most powerful person at the company after Kalanick.

Alexander was dismissed in recent weeks for his alleged role in mishandling the rape case of an Uber passenger in India, whereby medical records were wrongfully obtained and kept.

The dismissal follows a litany of scandals to emerge in the past year.

After a blog post from former employee Susan Fowler went viral in February, Uber had to come forward and comment on allegations of the suppression of sexual harassment claims across the company structure.

Uber has a long road ahead

Uber, despite its scandals, is still one of the biggest tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, having raised $10bn in venture capital, valuing it at $70bn.

The company has disrupted the global taxi business and could be argued to be an economic driving force for taxi drivers all over the world, which is precisely why, in its dealings with its staff and contractors, it should be above reproach and set an example for other to follow.

And it is clearly not out of the woods just yet. Far from it.

It has emerged that David Bonderman, an Uber board member and a partner at private equity firm TPG (which is an investor in the company), resigned from the board after he made a disparaging remark about women at a staff meeting yesterday (13 June).

At a staff meeting to discuss the company’s culture, fellow board member and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington spoke about how one woman on a board often leads to more women joining a board.

“Actually, what it shows is that it’s much likely to be more talking,” Bonderman responded.

His comment left attendees at the meeting aghast, according to The New York Times, resulting in a flurry of emails from angry employees to their managers. Bonderman apologised for his remark and resigned in order to uphold the standards the company wants to adhere to.

“I appreciate David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company,” Huffington said in a statement.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Image: Debby Wong/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years