The curious case of Travis Kalanick is a text book example of how not to run a company. Under his leadership, Uber went from being a transportation game changer to a troubled Silicon Valley ride-hailing startup in record time.
It all started with accusations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and being caught red handed, performing evasive maneuvers around regulation. These missteps left the company with a reputation problem in a world obsessed by image and social responsibility.
Shareholders quickly stepped in and forced Kalanick to step down. A scandal of any kind after all is simply not good for business.
Uber’s eight-person board also appeared to be deeply divided, which further magnified the problems both inside and outside of Uber. Speculation around who would rise to the challenge of repairing Uber's deeply damaged reputation, and pick up the pieces, went into overdrive.
The list of leading candidates for Uber’s next CEO comprised big names such as Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Jeffrey R. Immelt of General Electric. But, Uber ultimately chose 48 year-old Iranian-American businessman and Expedia's CEO Mr. Dara Khosrowshahi as its new leader, with the hope of putting the company back on track according to ReCode.
As the Chief Executive of Expedia for 12 years, Dara Khosrowshahi has helped lead the travel company to a market cap of about $23 Billion. By contrast, Uber’s private valuation has it pegged at around $70 Billion, highlighting just how big it has become, and the size of the job at hand.
There are now over 11,000 people working for Uber in more than 500 cities across six continents. The old way of doing things has stopped working. Leadership used to be about customer, with little regard for employees. It used to be all about shareholder and customer value.
Little did leaders realize, their employees are customers too, and that it is equally important today to treat them with as much respect as the company’s best customers. In the case of Uber, these obvious traits were difficult for the previous regime to comprehend.
Repairing both the corporate image and investor relations is not a job for the faint-hearted. This of course is only the base of the mountain Khosrowshahi will need to climb, in order to have any chance of stopping further financial hemorrhage.
Uber was the first of its kind to revolutionize the travel industry by providing travelers the ability to hail a cab just about anywhere via their smartphone. However, socially-conscious users equipped with strong moral compass have been slowly migrating away to other services such as Lyft, on the shoulders of campaigns such as #DeleteUber, exposing Uber’s giant loyalty problem.
In a digital age where information about the latest iPhone is leaked before the official announcement, it is not surprising that Khosrowshahi's offer has become publicized even before he has officially accepted the role.
Everything Uber does is clearly being observed by consumers like a hawk, which is further indicative of the type of transparent public environment awaiting the new CEO.
Thankfully, Dara Khosrowshahi is well liked and respected across the tech industry, traits that Uber desperately needs right now. Leading Expedia's expansion to over 60 countries doesn’t hurt either. Mr. Khosrowshahi is no yes man either, and has already been critical of certain travel related issues.
Hopefully, we can finally close the chapter of Kalanick's reign at Uber and put rumors of a comeback to rest. The years of tech giants believing they are somehow above the law, and that the secret to success in a digital age is to walk over people, breaking all of the rules, has turned out to be nothing but an urban myth.
The story of Uber is also a wake-up call for tech companies that think misbehaving and treating employees or solopreneurs with derision is somehow acceptable.
With self-driving cars on the horizon, it seems that even digital business models run the risk of becoming obsolete in a short span of time.
The art of the pivot has never been more crucial to business. Failure to adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape will make you appear dinosaur like and unable to handle the changes for a secure future.
Lyft co-founder John Zimmer has already proven that nice guys don't always finish last and that being a jerk likely won't get you very far in business. This is something that Travis Kalanick was unable to grasp and why a shakeup was desperately needed.
Mr. Dara Khosrowshahi has led Expedia from $15 Billion to $72 billion, while being respected and liked by his employees, shareholders and customers, that suggests he could be the right person for the job.
I have no doubt though that it's his attitude, values and ethics that Uber needs right now to avoid further slipping into a death spiral.
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