Embattled Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick is widely expected to take a leave of absence or, at the least, step back from his current role in the wake of a series of scandals and setbacks that have hammered the ride-sharing giant in recent months.
That includes allegations of sexual harassment that led Uber to commission an independent study led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The findings were presented to Uber’s board of directors during a special meeting and members voted unanimously to accept all of the report’s recommendations.
That is expected to help rein in what critics have described as a frat house culture at a company that also happens to be the world’s most valuable venture capital-backed firm. Among other things, it is expected to place greater controls over senior operations at Uber, including spending and human resources.
(Uber fires 20 employees ahead of release of sex harassment study. Click Here for the full story.)
Uber has faced an almost weekly series of embarrassments since the beginning of the year. Most recently, a memo sent Kalanick to employees attending a company conference outlined behaviors that he said would not be tolerated, including tossing beer kegs off the roof of the hotel. It set guidelines for sexual liaisons between employees and warned there would be a “puke charge” for those who got drunk and threw up.
There have been numerous reports of such “baller” behavior at Uber retreats but what has especially concerned critics is how this has impacted operations at Uber’s offices. The trigger point came when former engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti went public with allegations of the harassment she faced during a year working for Uber. Among other things, she was repeatedly propositioned by her former boss and then told she would face retribution for even reporting the behavior of a highly prized manager.
That triggered a quick backlash, though board member Arianna Huffington in March tried to defend Kalanick as a “scrappy entrepreneur.” She also said Kalanick would need to make “changes in himself and the way he leads.”
With former Attorney General Holder’s study already underway, Kalanick found himself directly in the crosshairs when he was caught on video angrily berating an Uber driver who expressed his frustration at cuts in pay during a conversation with the CEO.
Kalanick subsequenty said he needed to take steps to change his behavior and announced plans to find a new chief operating officer. But that, in turn, led to the quick departure of Uber’s only recently hired president.
Uber has, in fact, been hit by a wave of senior departures, most recently its chief financial officer who resigned after announcing another big quarterly loss.
Uber has had little cover. The company is facing a criminal probe for allegedly using so-called “greyball” software to make it hard for regulators to track the service.
Its biggest legal challenge, however, appears to be an ongoing court case filed by Waymo, the autonomous vehicle spin-off of Google. It alleges that Anthony Levandowski, until recently the head of autonomous vehicle research at the ride-sharing company stole trade secrets and thousands of documents when he left a job at Waymo early last year. Levandowski was fired by Uber earlier this month, but only under pressure from the U.S. District Judge hearing the case.
(Uber fires autonomous vehicle chief Levandowski. Click Here for the story.)
Holder and his law firm, Perkins Coie, have looked into 215 allegations of sexual and other forms of harassment at Uber, 57 still under investigation. The findings were privately reviewed by the company’s board on Sunday and are expected to be revealed to the public tomorrow. All of the recommendations made by Holder and his team were approved.
The board and its public relations team did not comment on reports that Kalanick would take a leave of absence or possibly step back on his duties. It was expected to approve the appointment of Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice president at Nestle SA, to join the board.
Despite its problems, Uber remains the largest ride-sharing service in the United States, though key rival Lyft has gained ground in recent months as Uber has been hit by calls for a boycott by its users.
(Late to the game, Honda puts autonomous vehicle program on the fast-track. Click Here for more.)