Uber’s bumpy CEO search

The firm’s board is try­ing to fill shoes of Kalan­ick, ru­mored to be an­gling for a re­turn.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Tracey Lien

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Get­ting rid of Travis Kalan­ick may have been hard for Uber’s in­vestors and board of di­rec­tors. But re­plac­ing him could prove harder.

As the com­pany’s board inches ahead in its search for a new chief ex­ec­u­tive to run the em­bat­tled ride-hail­ing com­pany, can­di­dates are drop­ping out be­fore they’ve even met with ev­ery board mem­ber. Kalan­ick him­self is ru­mored to be an­gling for a re­turn, and some in­vestors ques­tion whether any can­di­date could fill its de­parted leader’s shoes.

In other words, this is not a typ­i­cal job open­ing.

“They’re try­ing to hire some­one for two very dif­fer­ent roles,” said Bradley Tusk, an early in­vestor in Uber who is not in­volved with the board’s CEO search.

The com­pany needs a leader who can im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions of a re­port by for­mer U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to change Uber’s cul­ture of bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment, se­cure deals and even­tu­ally lead the firm to an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing. It takes “one type of man­ager,” Tusk said, to get that job done.

On top of that, Tusk said, the in­com­ing CEO must fill the void that Kalan­ick sup­port­ers be­lieve he left — that of a tena­cious vi­sion­ary who can help Uber grow into a com­pany that com­petes

with the likes of Ap­ple, Google, and Ama­zon.

“And that’s a very dif­fer­ent kind of per­son,” Tusk said.

The can­di­dates whose names have been floated — such as Hewlett Packard En­ter­prise CEO Meg Whit­man and de­part­ing GE chief Jeff Im­melt — fall into the first cat­e­gory of man­ager, thanks to their ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning large legacy busi­nesses. Peo­ple with knowl­edge of the mat­ter said that Whit­man, who has start-up ex­pe­ri­ence from her time at EBay, was viewed as a promis­ing can­di­date, but she an­nounced on Twit­ter last week that she was not con­sid­er­ing the role. Re­code re­ported that she had not yet met in per­son with ev­ery board mem­ber at the time of her an­nounce­ment.

Im­melt is still be­lieved to be in the run­ning.

Uber de­clined to com­ment on the process of hir­ing a new CEO.

The dif­fi­culty of the board’s search has been com­pounded by in­ter­nal dis­agree­ments.

The com­pany’s board cur­rently con­sists of Kalan­ick, co-founder Gar­rett Camp, Uber ex­ec­u­tive Ryan Graves, me­dia en­tre­pre­neur Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, Nes­tle ex­ec­u­tive Wan Ling Martello, TPG Cap­i­tal’s David Tru­jillo, Yasir bin Oth­man al Ru­mayyan of the Saudi Ara­bia pub­lic in­vest­ment fund, Didi Chux­ing’s Cheng Wei and Bench­mark’s Matt Cohler. Huff­in­g­ton has been a long­time sup­porter of Kalan­ick, but Bench­mark led the charge in pres­sur­ing Kalan­ick to re­sign. It is un­clear which can­di­dates the board cur­rently fa­vors.

As the board of di­rec­tors con­tin­ues its search, sources close to Kalan­ick have said the Uber co-founder, who re­signed in June af­ter mount­ing pres­sure from in­vestors, wants to come back and run the show. Re­code re­ported Sun­day that Kalan­ick had told sev­eral peo­ple that he was “Steve Jobs-ing it,” a ref­er­ence to the Ap­ple co­founder who was fired from his role as CEO, only to re­turn years later to lead the com­pany to global dom­i­nance.

Kalan­ick did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The ap­point­ment of a new CEO is an op­por­tu­nity for Uber to sig­nal to in­vestors, em­ploy­ees, drivers and con­sumers that, af­ter spend­ing the last eight months em­broiled in po­lit­i­cal and le­gal con­tro­versy, it is turn­ing over a new leaf.

Af­ter de­vel­op­ing a wel­learned rep­u­ta­tion as a com­bat­ive and com­pet­i­tive com­pany that is hos­tile to­ward women, the com­pany has tried to make amends. In ad­di­tion to fir­ing em­ploy­ees who were found to have contributed to the com­pany’s toxic cul­ture, ac­cept­ing Kalan­ick’s res­ig­na­tion and bring­ing on high-pro­file women ex­ec­u­tives such as Bo­zoma Saint John from Ap­ple and Frances Frei of Har­vard Univer­sity, the com­pany launched an ini­tia­tive to curry fa­vor with drivers, who have long felt that the com­pany un­der Kalan­ick’s lead­er­ship didn’t lis­ten to them.

Even if Kalan­ick could some­how tip the vote in his fa­vor, re­in­stalling him as chief ex­ec­u­tive any time soon would un­der­mine the com­pany’s mes­sag­ing that it is chang­ing its ways, one in­vestor said.

The fact that Kalan­ick was such an over­pow­er­ing force within Uber when he was its CEO could also make him a tough act to fol­low, ac­cord­ing busi­ness and brand­ing ex­perts.

“It’s al­most like the first boyfriend or girl­friend you get af­ter a breakup,” said An­drew Gil­man, pres­i­dent of cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Comm­core Con­sult­ing Group. “Who­ever comes in, there’s a chance they’ll be fab­u­lously suc­cess­ful, but there’s a bet­ter chance they’ll be the re­bound, where they’ll have to go through one CEO be­fore they get a re­ally good one.”

A “re­ally good one,” in the eyes of in­vestors, is some­one with Kalan­ick’s vi­sion com­bined with the tem­per­a­ment and ex­pe­ri­ence of the Whit­mans of the world. If Uber could only have one, though, busi­ness ex­perts such as Brent Gold­farb, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of en­trepreneur­ship and strat­egy at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, be­lieve it’d be wise to pri­or­i­tize re­spon­si­bil­ity be­fore in­ge­nu­ity.

“They need a grown-up,” Gold­farb said. “They need some­one who can cut op­er­a­tions that aren’t work­ing, make a ra­tio­nal call on the au­tonomous strat­egy, has the strength and emo­tional wits to re­set the com­pany cul­ture, and push this through re­lent­lessly.”

Will Oliver Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

THE VI­SION of Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalan­ick is cred­ited with the com­pany’s rapid rise.

VCG via Getty Images

SOURCES CLOSE to for­mer Uber CEO Travis Kalan­ick have said he wants to re­turn and run the show. The firm he led has been work­ing to change its rep­u­ta­tion as a com­bat­ive com­pany that is hos­tile to­ward women.

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