Em­ploy­ees at Uber urge re­turn of ex-CEO

About 1,000 work­ers re­port­edly pe­ti­tion board to have Travis Kalan­ick re­in­stated in an op­er­a­tional role.

Los Angeles Times - - TECHNOLOGY - By Tracey Lien tracey.lien@la­times.com Twit­ter: @traceylien

SAN FRAN­CISCO — The ma­jor­ity of Uber’s in­vestors may have wanted its co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive, Travis Kalan­ick, out, but some em­ploy­ees of the ride-hail­ing com­pany are al­ready call­ing for his re­turn.

In a pe­ti­tion that be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing within Uber on Wed­nes­day, em­ploy­ees called for Uber’s board of di­rec­tors to re­in­state Kalan­ick, who re­signed Tues­day evening fol­low­ing pres­sure from in­vestors and months of scan­dals.

“Yes, Travis is flawed, as we all are,” the pe­ti­tion reads. “But his pas­sion, vi­sion, and ded­i­ca­tion to Uber are sim­ply un­matched. We would not be here to­day with­out him, and be­lieve he can evolve into the leader we need. He is crit­i­cal to our fu­ture suc­cess.”

The pe­ti­tion calls for Kalan­ick’s re­turn in an op­er­a­tional role.

News site Ax­ios re­ported Thurs­day that some 1,000 em­ploy­ees had signed the pe­ti­tion. Uber has around 12,000 non-driver em­ploy­ees.

Uber de­clined to com­ment on the pe­ti­tion, but a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter con­firmed that it started cir­cu­lat­ing Wed­nes­day, and that the com­pany’s man­age­ment has not yet ad­dressed it.

Kalan­ick was a po­lar­iz­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive, seen as both a bril­liant vi­sion­ary who led the com­pany to dom­i­nance and the source of a toxic culture out­lined in two in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the com­pany.

His de­par­ture was or­ches­trated by in­vestors who did not be­lieve he had the chops to turn the com­pany around af­ter a re­lent­less spate of con­tro­ver­sies.

The com­pany’s in­ter­nal trou­bles had also spilled out into the public, and a re­cent sur­vey of Uber pas­sen­gers con­ducted by me­dia and tech­nol­ogy com­pany Morn­ing Con­sult found that of around 1,700 sur­veyed par­tic­i­pants, 57% were aware of claims of bul­ly­ing, sex­ism, and sex­ism ha­rass­ment at the com­pany.

Such aware­ness of a com­pany’s in­ter­nal prob­lems is “pretty high,” es­pe­cially for ser­vice used by 20% to 30% of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Cartwright, a spokesman for Morn­ing Con­sult. By com­par­i­son, a na­tion­wide topic, such as the Af­ford­able Care Act, records around 70% aware­ness.

Of those sur­veyed, 13% said they had stopped us­ing the Uber app al­to­gether be­cause of the scan­dals. Among cus­tomers who had stopped us­ing the app, 28% said fir­ing the CEO would bring them back.

“Travis wasn’t very well known be­fore this,” said Cartwright, who noted that aside from a few ex­cep­tions, such as Mark Zucker­berg or Sh­eryl Sand­berg, most tech ex­ec­u­tives aren’t house­hold names.

“But he be­came front and cen­ter of Uber in the past few months. A few months ago peo­ple didn’t know who he was. Now, he’s iden­ti­fied as the prob­lem,” Cartwright said.

Still, Kalan­ick con­tin­ues to have sup­port­ers both in­side and out­side of Uber.

Bradley Tusk, co-founder of Tusk Ven­tures and an early in­vestor in Uber, said Wed­nes­day he wor­ried that the board of di­rec­tors may have “solved one prob­lem but cre­ated another” in pres­sur­ing Kalan­ick to re­sign.

Tusk be­lieves Kalan­ick is a vi­sion­ary and that, in­stead of get­ting rid of him, the board should have hired others to help with his short­com­ings.

“Whether it’s au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, truck­ing, fly­ing cars, that’s the stuff that I think you re­ally need Travis for,” Tusk said.

In ad­dress­ing Kalan­ick’s de­par­ture, the com­pany’s top lead­ers — 14 of whom now share du­ties run­ning the place — said they un­der­stood that emo­tions were high and that Kalan­ick did not make his de­ci­sion lightly.

“Travis gave more to this com­pany than any­one,” they said in a state­ment sent to em­ploy­ees. “He had a deep and mean­ing­ful im­pact on count­less num­bers of peo­ple at Uber and around the world, and for that, we will for­ever be grate­ful.”

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