Uber’s President Resigns as Employees Head for the Exits – Vanity Fair
A number of high-level employees are leaving Uber amid a series of scandals at the world’s most valuable private tech company, including an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and an intellectual property lawsuit that claims Uber colluded to steal its critical self-driving technology. The latest employee to leave is Uber President Jeff Jones, who called it quits after just six months on the job. “It is now clear … that the beliefs and approaches to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” Jones told Recode Sunday, choosing to make his resignation known through the press.
Jones’s exit marks a stunning turn of fate for Uber, which has been roiled by controversies over the past several weeks. When Jones, the former C.M.O. of Target, joined Uber last year, his hire was hailed as a signal that the ride-hailing company was gaining enough legitimacy to attract top corporate talent. “We first met in February at TED immediately after my talk,” C.E.O. Travis Kalanick said in a blog post at the time, announcing Jones’s hire in August. “Within minutes we were debating how Uber could improve its reputation.”
It seems that task proved too difficult for Jones. In a note to staff confirming his resignation, Kalanick thanked Jones for his service, but framed his departure as related to Uber’s decision to hire a C.O.O. who would outrank him. “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber,” Kalanick said. “It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly.”
But sources told Recode that Jones’s resignation wasn’t related to the prospect of the company hiring a C.O.O.—as Kalanick announced he would do in the wake of growing questions about his leadership—but Jones’s realization that Uber’s problems were bigger than he had realized when he took the job.
Nor was Jones the only high-ranking Uber employee to resign over the weekend. The New York Times reports that Brian McClendon, the company’s vice president of maps and business platform, plans to leave at the end of March, though for different reasons. McClendon, the Times reports, is moving back to Kansas and is considering going into politics. (McClendon confirmed the news of his departure via tweet on Sunday.) Mapping, which McClendon oversaw during his tenure at Uber, has been an existential issue for Uber as it moves into the self-driving-vehicle space. Currently, Uber’s mapping technology is a mix of products from different tech companies, including Google Maps.
In addition to this weekend’s two executive departures, Uber has faced something of an executive exodus this year. Uber asked Amit Singhal, a vice president of engineering, to resign, after the company learned he’d failed to disclose an allegation of sexual harassment against him at his former employer, Google. Gary Marcus, the head of Uber’s artificial-intelligence labs, left this month, after Uber acquired his company in December. The senior director of engineering at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, Raffi Krikorian, left last week. Ed Baker, the company’s vice president of product and growth, also left in March, as did Charlie Miller, a security researcher and an important member of Uber’s self-driving-technology team.
The brain drain comes at a bad time for Uber, which is now facing a number of existential challenges. The same aggressive, “hustle-oriented” corporate culture that helped Uber rapidly expand across the world has lately come back to haunt it, after a number of people with knowledge of the company came forward with accounts describing a sexist, chauvinistic workplace environment. Former and current employees are reportedly struggling to defend Uber on their resumes as they look for new jobs. (“They have to defend themselves and say: ‘Oh, I’m not an asshole,’” one former Employee told The Guardian.) Even more problematic is a lawsuit filed last month by Waymo, Google parent company Alphabet’s self-driving-car division, which alleges that a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, took trade secrets with him when he left Google last year to start his own autonomous-vehicle company, Otto, which was acquired months later by Uber for an astounding $680 million. (“We will have a chance to tell our side of the story in upcoming filings and look forward to that opportunity,” an Uber spokesperson told The Hive.)
Uber has asked for arbitration in the suit, but should it go to trial, Silicon Valley insiders think it could spell even more trouble for Uber. An injunction forcing Uber to abandon its current driverless technology research and start from scratch could be crippling, as Uber races to put autonomous vehicles—the lynchpin of its business strategy—on the road. But even if it survives the lawsuit, Uber is plainly in dire straits. “While I think that the public’s attention span can be short, the continued number of Uber executives leaving is making the perception more of a reality for the company,” one investor told me. “Add in the reports of them losing money hand over first and they might end up being a bust, which is something I can’t believe. A couple of years ago I thought Uber had the potential to become the logistics company of the future.”