Next Uber CEO will get chance to make im­pact

Hope­fuls ap­ply for chance to turn around $70B firm

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - MIKE ISAAC

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Wanted: a sea­soned ex­ec­u­tive to take the top po­si­tion at a trou­bled tech­nol­ogy startup. Must be will­ing to fix a bro­ken cul­ture, deal with an ag­gres­sive pre­de­ces­sor, bat­tle a risky law­suit and pre­pare the com­pany for an ini­tial public of­fer­ing. Self-starters pre­ferred.

This is essen­tially the pitch that Uber is mak­ing to po­ten­tial chief ex­ec­u­tive can­di­dates af­ter Travis Kalan­ick, the ride­hail­ing com­pany’s co-founder, was ousted from the top spot last month. By some ac­counts, the job ap­pears to be a thank­less one. So who would want it?

Quite a few peo­ple, as it turns out.

De­spite a se­ries of scan­dals that have rocked Uber this year, com­pe­ti­tion for the chief ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion is ro­bust, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the search who asked to re­main anony­mous be­cause the process is confidential. The com­pany has re­ceived a flood of in­ter­est since Kalan­ick va­cated his seat in June, and Uber’s board has in­ter­viewed mul­ti­ple can­di­dates.

For those ap­pli­cants, the cal­cu­lus is easy. De­spite Uber’s prob­lems, ex­ec­u­tives see an op­por­tu­nity to shep­herd the com­pany — which op­er­ates in more than 80 coun­tries and pulls in bil­lions of dol­lars each quar­ter — through the most try­ing time in its eight-year his­tory.

“This is a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for some­one who’s wired for prob­lem solv­ing and wants to make their mark by turn­ing around the im­age of the com­pany,” said Ja­son Hanold, man­ag­ing part­ner at Hanold As­so­ci­ates, a bou­tique ex­ec­u­tive search firm. “Yes, they’re in­her­it­ing Uber’s en­tire toxic cul­ture. But they’re also get­ting thou­sands of em­ploy­ees who are hun­gry to change it.”

Apart from the op­por­tu­nity to steer a turn­around, the chief ex­ec­u­tive will be walk­ing into a com­pany that has al­ready reached enor­mous scale. As a re­sult, changes made by a new chief would af­fect mil­lions of peo­ple glob­ally, not to men­tion Uber’s work­force of more than 15,000 em­ploy­ees and hun­dreds of thou­sands of con­tract driv­ers.

The even­tual chief ex­ec­u­tive would also have the op­por­tu­nity to take Uber public. The com­pany, which be­gan in 2009, is now the high­est-val­ued pri­vate com­pany in the world, with a val­u­a­tion of around $70 bil­lion. And while Uber is un­prof­itable, its rev­enue has been grow­ing. That would make an ini­tial public of­fer­ing a huge event on Wall Street, as well as for Sil­i­con Val­ley in­vestors who have bil­lions of dol­lars wa­gered on Uber’s suc­cess.

For now, Uber’s ex­ec­u­tive search com­mit­tee, which in­cludes five mem­bers of its board, has kept the lid tight on the list of can­di­dates. Af­ter a tor­rent of leaks be­fore Kalan­ick’s de­par­ture, two of the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the search said there has been a re­newed ef­fort to keep quiet.

Among those up for con­sid­er­a­tion has been Su­san Wo­j­ci­cki, who leads YouTube. Oth­ers in­clude Adam Bain, Twit­ter’s for­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer; David Cush, a for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive at Vir­gin Amer­ica; Marissa Mayer, the for­mer Ya­hoo chief ex­ec­u­tive; and Thomas Staggs, a for­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Dis­ney, ac­cord­ing to three other peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the search. It was un­clear what level of in­ter­est, if any, these ex­ec­u­tives had ex­pressed in the Uber job.

Oth­ers, like the for­mer Google sales ex­ec­u­tive Nikesh Arora, have been qui­etly ad--

vanc­ing them­selves for the po­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to two of the peo­ple.

Bain, Cush, Mayer, Staggs and Arora did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. A YouTube spokesman de­clined to com­ment about Wo­j­ci­cki.

Some can­di­dates have ex­pressed

con­cern over how Uber’s board op­er­ates, es­pe­cially be­cause Kalan­ick re­tains a seat. Kalan­ick, who re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant Uber share­holder, has been ac­tive in the search for his re­place­ment, ac­cord­ing to two of the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the can­di­dates, although the can­di­dates have been as­sured that they would have au­ton­omy as chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Uber has other con­sid­er­a­tions in choos­ing a new leader.

The com­pany has faced in­tense crit­i­cism for its lack of di­ver­sity and has only re­cently be­gun to ad­dress the mat­ter. Last year, Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, the me­dia en­tre­pre­neur who runs the health and well­ness busi­ness Thrive Global, joined Uber’s board, and in the past few months the com­pany has re­cruited fe­male and mi­nor­i­ty­group ex­ec­u­tives.

The new CEO will face plenty of dif­fi­cul­ties. Neg­a­tive

per­cep­tion of Uber tripled, to 27 per­cent of re­spon­dents, in a sur­vey con­ducted in May by cg42, a man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm. The com­pany has had a more dif­fi­cult time hir­ing tech­ni­cal tal­ent in light of its neg­a­tive im­age.

Uber also faces a law­suit filed by Waymo, the self-driv­ing car com­pany spun out of Google, over claims of stolen trade se­crets. And Uber is in the midst of re­pair­ing its

frac­tured cul­ture af­ter a for­mer em­ployee spoke pub­licly about sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the com­pany.

While the job will make Uber’s next chief ex­ec­u­tive more wealthy, it will not nec­es­sar­ily make him filthy rich: With the com­pany’s val­u­a­tion al­ready so high, any stock doled out to a new chief would most likely have to ex­pe­ri­ence an enor­mous rise in value af­ter a public of­fer­ing for the re­turns to be con­sid­er­able.

Yet the pos­i­tives of the job still out­weigh the neg­a­tives for hope­ful ap­pli­cants.

“Even with all the prob­lems that com­pa­nies like Uber have, there will al­ways be top can­di­dates who want to go there,” Hanold said. “These peo­ple are prob­lem solvers: The hairier a sce­nario is, the more they’re at­tracted to try­ing to fix it.”

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