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How the CEO of the most valuable private tech company in the world is inspired by Ayn Rand

Travis kalanick fountainheadGetty Images/Business Insider

A lot of leaders in Silicon Valley have been inspired by Ayn Rand, her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” and the libertarian beliefs espoused within these books.

One of the most prominent examples of this culture of Silicon Valley libertarianism is Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

We decided to take a look at Rand’s books — particularly “The Fountainhead” — to explain why Uber and Kalanick behave the way they do.

Travis Kalanick is a fan of Rand -- but especially 'The Fountainhead.'

For a while, Kalanick's Twitter avatar was the cover of 'The Fountainhead,' Rand's tale about the triumph of Howard Roark, a Nietzschean figure.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Kalanick referred to the Twitter avatar, and said: 'It's less of a political statement. It's just personally one of my favourite books. I'm a fan of architecture.'

Kalanick also refuses to back down from doing what he thinks is right, even if society doesn't always agree.

Kalanick rose to power in the past two years, and, as we said about him in a 2013 profile: 'He's a perpetual underdog who is finally able to flick off the world.'

Uber often faces resistance from regulators in big cities, and the taxi companies who abide by those regulations. But Kalanick believes that these regulators are often corrupt and not acting in the actual best interests of society. As he told the Wall Street Journal, 'But there's been so much corruption and so much cronyism in the taxi industry and so much regulatory capture that if you ask permission upfront for something that's already legal, you'll never get it.'

One of the biggest themes of Rand's The Fountainhead is the importance of individuality and selfishness.

At trial, Roark tells the jury that the fountainhead of civilisation is made up of individual creators. At its core, 'The Fountainhead' is a story about acting selfishly to break free from the group mentality of society. It's OK to be greedy, and it makes sense to be selfish and self-interested. If you win, you won because you deserved to.

Uber's very aggressive tactics against competitor Lyft could be seen as embodying this 'winner-takes-all' approach.

In August, it was revealed that Uber had launched a driver recruitment program called Operation Slog to recruit competing companies' drivers. According to a report by The Verge, 'brand ambassadors' for Uber frequently called Lyft drivers and then tried to recruit them during the rides. Uber has also famously launched an aggressive advertising campaign against Lyft.

The Fountainhead paints journalism and journalists in a negative light.

The New York Times newsroom, 1942

Toohey, who is Roark's villain throughout the novel, prints newspapers that cater to sensationalism. In Randian philosophy, it's impossible to find intelligent and unbiased journalism so long as newspapers cater to the masses.

Uber has suffered from its share of public relations mishaps when dealing with journalists.

In November at a dinner for 'influencers,' an Uber executive named Emil Michael suggested the company could theoretically dig up personal information on reporters who are critical of the company. BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith reported on those comments.

BuzzFeed also reported that a New York City Uber executive had tracked one of BuzzFeed's tech reporters without her permission, a breach of Uber's privacy policy (the policy was later posted to Uber's website in light of these incidents). The executive in question, Josh Mohrer, was investigated for spying on the BuzzFeed reporter, and according to Uber has since been disciplined for his actions, but he has kept his job.

The Fountainhead admirers laborers because they're individuals, but thinks they're to be feared as a group.

The book presents a somewhat mixed viewpoint on manual labour. Howard Roark works at construction sites, putting in his time in manual labour. But The Fountainhead admires manual labour only so far as it supports the individuals performing it. It does not admire the unions that represent a lot of laborers. Ayn Rand herself believed that the labour movement bred socialism, and viewed labour unions as a threat to society.

Uber does not consider its drivers to be full-time employees.

To compare this to Kalanick and his company, drivers are performing the company's 'manual' labour. The company says that they can make a living driving for the company, but Uber treats them as contractors, not full-time employees with all the rights and benefits that employees have. Uber driver protest groups across the country went largely unanswered by the company when they went on strike.

If all this makes you want a job there...

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