Can Uber Wake up from Its PR Nightmare? – Vanity Fair
For seven hours on Sunday, board members huddled in Uber’s dark, modernist headquarters on Market Street to discuss how to move forward after receiving the results of a second investigation into allegations of sexism and sexual harassment at the world’s most valuable private tech company. They emerged having unanimously approved all recommendations made to change the company’s culture, as they were expected to do as the crisis has deepened. “The Uber board met today with Eric Holder and Tammy Albarrán,” an Uber board spokesperson told Business Insider, referring to the two lead investigators. “The board unanimously voted to adopt all the recommendations of the Holder report. The recommendations will be released to the employees on Tuesday.”
While few details about those planned changes have been made public, that will likely change once Uber tells its 12,000 employees about the report’s findings this week. One recommendation included ousting S.V.P. of business Emil Michael, a top executive who is close to C.E.O. Travis Kalanick. On Monday, Uber employees received an email telling them Michael was leaving the company. “Uber has a long way to go to achieve all that it can and I am looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the years ahead,” Michael said in a note to employees. Kalanick himself reportedly raised the possibility of taking a three-month leave of absence.
The uncertainty surrounding Kalanick’s tenure isn’t the only challenge facing Uber leadership. C.F.O. Gautam Gupta is stepping down to join a real-estate start-up, President Jeff Jones resigned amid turmoil in March, and Uber currently has no C.O.O. or S.V.P. of engineering, leaving the company’s executive ranks remarkably depleted. The latest departures follow a wave of exits earlier this year, when Uber also lost Gary Marcus, the head of Uber’s artificial-intelligence labs; Raffi Krikorian, the senior director of engineering at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center; Ed Baker, the company’s vice president of product and growth; Charlie Miller, a security researcher and an important member of Uber’s self-driving-technology team; and Rachel Whetstone, the revered communications guru who helped steer Uber through months of scandals and negative press.
The brain drain is likely to continue. “Expect more people to leave after the results of the Holder investigation are announced,” one source close to the company told me earlier this year. Morale has plummeted amid the constant barrage of bad press, the source told me, and employees are increasingly concerned about their job prospects at other tech start-ups if they continue to work at a company with a tarnished reputation.
With a $70 billion valuation on the line, Uber has raced to clean up its act and move on from its human-resources and public-relations crises. While a number of executives have rushed to the exits, Uber has also hired several high-profile women to help detoxify the company’s corporate culture, adding beloved Apple Music exec Bozoma Saint John to serve as its chief brand officer and Harvard Business School’s Frances Frei as its new S.V.P. of leadership and strategy. Now, sources tell Bloomberg that there are plans to add a third woman to that list: Nestle’s Wan Ling Martello, who will reportedly join Uber as an independent board member.