Friday, March 24, 2017

(The Big Disrupt) Uber: Are We Witnessing Uber's Downfall?

A lot has been happening with the rideshare giant, Uber, lately. Allegations of sexism and discrimination, lawsuits from Google, and a slew of other things. All of which are probably not helping Travis Kalanick’s self esteem. One has to wonder how far this will go. On the one hand, he recently stated that Uber’s finances are just fine according to rumor. But if you do a quick search for Uber profits 2016 you find page upon page of results reporting otherwise. Not a good sign.

As we finish out Q1 of 2017, we are seeing headlines like “Here’s everything that’s gone wrong at Uber in the last month” (CNBC) and “What Travis Kalanick Can Do Now to Dodge Another Messy Month at Uber” (Fortune). As industry changing and innovative as the company has been, it is clear that their product alone will not sustain the company unless drastic changes are made. It would seem Mr. Kalanick may be on the brink of finally answering the wake up call from the rest of the world.

“...the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.” - Travis Kalanick (Fortune)

That’s great and all, but with the frequency he has been speaking out of both sides of his mouth in recent history, it’s dubious whether that help will actually be sought.

In Susan Fowler’s post about her experience with sexual harassment during her tenure at Uber (Susan J Fowler), she highlights that the two-faced nature of management goes deeper than just the top. She did all the right things in reporting the manager that was harassing her to HR (more than once) and even changed teams (again, more than once). HR defended the manager in question and essentially gave her an ultimatum presented as a ‘choice’. The story continues onward and just lays plain the issue at hand - Uber’s chain of command has some big problems. Companies with corrupt management may enjoy big successes, but eventually the company will either die from internal rot or external pressure.

Uber is seeing plenty of both.

In the last month some of their top staff have left. Most with titles like Director, Vice President, and, last but not least, President. At least seven high level people have left, which means that their departments are suffering from a lack of whatever leadership those people provided. Even if all of those players can be replaced within a reasonable amount of time through either internal promotions or external hires so much damage has already been done that it will be difficult to recover; if recovery is even possible.

Companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Intel have helped lead the charge regarding diversity in their workforces. Uber will have to learn and change very quickly if they are to have any chance of saving themselves.

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