Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

The Uber Fiasco: A Key Leadership Reminder

Uber, and particularly its CEO, has a reputation as being super-aggressive and in-your-face.  In recent months Uber has been battered by a barrage of controversies that have called into question the capabilities of the CEO, and clearly tarnished the reputation of the brand.

Probably the incident that generated the biggest public firestorm was the company being accused of sexist and discriminatory behavior by a former engineer.  That employee posted a blog describing a workplace where sexual harassment was common and went unpunished.  Also recently, Bloomberg released a video that showed the CEO chewing-out an Uber driver who was complaining about the recent decrease in rates paid to Uber drivers.

Adding to Uber’s misery, it recently confirmed it had used a secret technology program called “Greyball” that identifies local regulators in an area, and changes the smartphone view of Uber availabilities for those individuals, so Uber looks like it is not operating in communities where it is banned, even though it is.  Uber is also being sued by Alphabet for stealing driverless car technology.

The very latest Uber embarrassment is the resignation of its president, who was hired just seven months ago.  That individual had responsibility for most of Uber’s global operations, including the core ride-hailing service, marketing, customer services, and the drivers.  Upon leaving the company, that individual said; “It is now clear that the beliefs and approach 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 .”

It understandable that startups often have inexperienced, but very creative and entrepreneurial, leaders.  On the other hand, once launched and clearly successful, with valuation in the billion dollar range, it is time for the board, which typically is made up of the firms major investors, to make sure adequate leadership is in place to handle the very different management needs of a large and going operation.

The market valuation of Uber is now up at the $60 billion range and the founding CEO is still in place but, as we see from above, clearly struggling.  Unfortunately for Uber, its eight person board consists of four Uber employees (one being the CEO), three investors who clearly have made a lot of money and seem un-involved at this point, and an editor of an online tabloid.  It appears to me that sound mature oversight is simply nowhere in sight for Uber.

Stepping back, the lesson is clear:  To achieve short and long term success, an organization should always have in place: 1) a sound, mature, proven leader, and 2) a body responsible for making sure the organization has such a leader, along with the authority and sense of urgency to make changes if that is not the case.


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