- Uber went to great lengths in its initial-public-offering filing to show it had cleaned up its act and fixed the problems that once plagued the company.
- That means indirectly indicting the era of Travis Kalanick, its cofounder and former CEO.
- It’s an awkward dance, since Kalanick is still a director on Uber’s board.
But the cofounder and former CEO of Uber appears many more times, if you read between the lines of the company’s S-1 filed Thursday. And for the most part, it seems, he’s there to serve as a punching bag.
The 300-page prospectus for Uber’s initial public offering seeks to convince investors that the ride-hailing company is a well-managed operation, free of the chaos and problems that plagued it a couple of years ago – back when Kalanick was in charge.
“We are on a new path forward with the hiring of our Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi in September 2017 following many challenges regarding our culture, workplace practices, and reputation,” Uber says toward the beginning of the document.
“It’s a new day at Uber,” the document declares.
An entire section labelled “Conduct and Culture” includes categories like “Tone at the Top” and refers to efforts to “fundamentally reform our workplace culture.”
“We have made tremendous progress in creating a program that is designed to prevent and detect violations of corporate policy, law, and regulations,” it says.
It’s a pretty damning indictment of Uber’s past, even though the company acknowledges that the “fierce entrepreneurialism” and “famous Uber hustle” it began with were key ingredients to its success.
Dancing the Travis 2-step
Kalanick served as Uber’s CEO from 2010 to 2017, turning the ride-hailing company into an unstoppable juggernaut worth nearly $US70 billion during that time. But the company was rocked by a series of scandals on his watch, including accusations of sexual harassment and a toxic work culture, a high-profile trade-theft lawsuit, and reports of operations designed to deceive regulators.
Khosrowshahi, the CEO who replaced Kalanick, indirectly refers to his predecessor’s legacy in a personal letter to investors that acknowledges “missteps along the way.”
It must make for awkward reading for Kalanick, given that he’s still a member of the company’s board of directors.
And it’s a delicate needle for Uber to thread, since the company must also praise Kalanick and sell him to investors as a desirable member of the board.
“Mr. Kalanick was selected to serve on our board of directors because of his experience as one of the co-founders and early leaders of our company, and as such, his extensive knowledge of our business, and his innovation, technology, and high-growth experience, as well as his consumer and digital experience,” the Uber S-1 says in Kalanick’s director bio.
Depending on which part of the S-1 you read, Kalanick’s experience as an “early leader” of the company is either an asset or a liability; a feature or a bug.
We all share this love-hate relationship
It’s a tricky balancing act that mirrors some of the broader questions we have about Uber. As consumers, we love the convenience, but we hate its impact on traffic and on workers. Is Uber the future of transportation, or another mechanism to further the divide between the haves and the have-nots?
The IPO is likely to make a lot of people very rich, especially the early investors, not to mention Kalanick. But, as with the authors of the S-1 filing, we’ll still be struggling to answer fundamental questions about the company and its legacy.
More on Uber’s massive IPO:
- Here’s who’s getting rich on Uber’s massive IPO
- Uber gave CEO Dara Khosrowshahi $US45 million in total pay last year, but it paid its COO even more
- Uber warns that its reputation may always be a risk for its continued success
- Uber warns its big push into scooters and e-bikes is creating unusual new headaches and risks for the company
- Uber spent $US3.3 billion on acquisitions in 2018 and 2019 – 10 times as much as Lyft
- Uber’s original pitch deck from a decade ago shows just how much the ride-hailing giant has changed
- Read the email Uber’s CEO sent employees about the company’s $US3.1 billion acquisition of a major competitor