Uber is in crisis. Once the darling of the technology industry, the $US69 billion (£54 billion) transportation firm is now lurching from scandal to scandal, in a state of constant damage control. Founder Travis Kalanick has resigned as CEO, following allegations of sexism at the company, the publication of a report into its workplace culture that led to the firing of more than 20 employees, and an exodus of top executives.
Before resigning late on Tuesday, Kalanick announced an indefinite leave of absence earlier this month, leaving the reins in the hands of a 14-strong team of senior leaders at the company. Now he has officially left — and Uber desperately needs to find a replacement CEO able to right the ship.
But it won’t be easy.
Whoever steps up to become Uber’s next chief executive will inherit a company at war on a thousand fronts. The firm is billions deep in the red, and some observers question whether it will ever be profitable. Its workplace culture is broken. Employee morale is low, and some are eyeing up the exits. The company’s C-suite has been decimated in recent months, with no chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, president, SVP of engineering, general counsel, or head of comms and policy (among others).
It faces a lawsuit from a passenger raped by her Uber driver after reports that a (now-fired) executives somehow obtained her medical records and shared them with other top executives, who privately speculated about whether her assault was a hoax perpetrated by a rival (it wasn’t). Drivers in some jurisdictions are challenging it over their employment status, and its laissez-faire attitude towards local regulations has raised the ire of many regulators. Its brand is toxic.
And on top of it all, Uber is ensnared in a legal battle with Waymo, Google parent company Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, over allegations that Uber stole its autonomous vehicle tech. The case risks setting Uber’s self-driving car efforts back by months or more — efforts that Kalanick bet everything on, warning that if Uber isn’t first to market, it could be an existential threat. “If we are not tied for first, then the person who is in first, or the entity that’s in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber’s, then Uber is no longer a thing,” he told Business Insider in 2016.
The next CEO’s job will also be complicated by the fact that Travis Kalanick has not even truly left the building. He remains on the board of Uber. He retains huge volumes of shares in the firm, giving him massive voting power and influence — and is incredibly deeply (emotionally) invested in the company he built.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman have both been suggested as potential successors, as well as AOL’s Tim Armstrong. Whoever it is will shoulder a huge and unenviable burden.
Kalanick’s failings are self-evident, and his departure overdue. With billions of investors’ dollars at stake, someone urgently needs to step in and try to make things right. But given the circumstances, the big question is whether anyone will want to.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.