Uber was a Schumpeterian success. The creative destruction of the cab/Lincoln Town car transportation model. Independent contractors driving folks around in their own cars on their own schedules. Uber was hip, groovy, defiant, and the company the sophisticated opted to use for their transportation needs. Uber was the world’s most valuable start-up.
Then came the problems with alleged sexual harassment the corporate level. Then there was the failure to investigate properly the rape of a passenger by an Uber driver in India. Then came the accusations of theft of the driverless technology. Then Pittsburgh felt Uber was not delivering on its end of what was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship in that city. Then came accusations of an atmosphere of sexual harassment at the company. The came the suit by the Indian rape victim, a suit that names executives for alleged failures and lapses in security checks and their handling of the investigation. Then came the reality: accusations that Uber just treats everyone badly. With the CEO on indefinite leave, a committee of 14 executives, including HR and legal, will now run the company. And Ariana Huffington will no longer be the only woman on Uber’s board. Uber now has a second woman on board, as it were, Wan Ling Martello, former CFO on Nestle and Exec VP of Asia Zone. Ms. Huffington, at an all-hands meeting for the company, lectured on the importance of women on company boards, “When there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on board.” Matt Jarzemsky, “Billionaire in Hot Water Over Uber Gaffe,” Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2017, p. B6. After Ms. Huffington offered that thought, David Bonderman, an Uber board member, billionaire, and chairman of private equity firm, TPG, quipped, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” Now, that right there is a gaffe worthy of Uber’s string of gaffes. Mr. Bonderman has apologized and resigned from the Uber board.
Uber has a big-time culture problem on so many layers and in so many layers. The change needed is not likely to come from a 14-member committee as CEO or the addition of one woman to its board. The bad decisions and worse attempts at fixes keep piling up. Is there anyone at Uber with a lick of common sense? Bright technical minds, great entrepreneurial spirit, and the maturity of the Goonies Go to Animal House.