Despite the dumpster fire that is Uber’s public image these days, the ride-hail company’s CEO Travis Kalanick isn’t going anywhere. That was the main takeaway from a 40-minute conference call today involving three of the company’s top female representatives: Arianna Huffington, media mogul and Uber board member; Liane Hornsey, chief human resources officer; and Rachel Holt, head of the company’s business in US and Canada.
The idea of Kalanick stepping down has been floated by some who believe it’s the only solution for Uber’s many problems. The BBC reported that Kalanick could step down as soon as he selects a new chief operating officer for Uber, but the company strenuously denied that story. When asked hypothetically if Kalanick would resign if implicated in the ongoing investigation into the company’s toxic culture, Huffington said that idea “has not been addressed because it hasn’t come up and we don’t expect it to come up.”
Kalanick did not participate in the call because he is busy interviewing COO candidates, Hornsey said. And in any case, the embattled CEO has “learned to delegate to his team and to those people around him who are experts.”
Kalanick has largely avoided the spotlight since the harassment scandal exploded last February. He was seen playing ping pong with Mark Zuckerberg at a “Babe and Balls” party a few weeks ago, but he has yet to make take any questions from the media about the litany of scandals that have plagued his company since the beginning of the year. He’s apologized — and cried! — to employees at an all-hands meeting, but he hasn’t addressed riders or drivers. Well, he did have a less-than-friendly chat with one driver.
There wasn’t any major news to come out of the conference call. The three executives acknowledged that there were serious problems with the company, but sought to convey the message that things were well in-hand. The unusual move to speak publicly about Uber’s ongoing identity crisis reflects the fragile position the company finds itself in. Not only are riders and drivers revolting, but investors have also expressed deep concerns with the management at the company. And the constant stream of executives and high-level engineers heading for the exit has done nothing to improve anyone’s confidence that the situation at Uber is salvageable.
Huffington repeated her promise to hold Kalanick’s “feet to the fire,” as well as her declaration that there would be “no room for brilliant jerks” at Uber in the future. Hornsey discussed efforts to improve Uber’s hiring processes and training programs to improve diversity and ensure that efforts to report harassment and sexism aren’t sabotaged or ignored, like alleged by ex-engineer Susan Fowler in her viral account.
Uber’s commitment to “disruption” has “translated internally into what I would call a cult of the individual,” Hornsey said. “We need to expend genuine effort to ensure that the individual is never more important than the team. Not ever.”
With the surprise resignation Sunday of Uber’s president of ridesharing Jeff Jones — after less than six months at the company — there have been questions about Uber’s ability to repair relations with the hundreds of thousands of drivers who use the platform.
“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers,” Holt said, before ticking off all the things Uber was doing to accomplish that. This includes easier-to-read earnings statements and a new app feature that allows riders to correct pick-up locations without canceling a trip in-progress. Uber will also take into account the number of trips completed by a driver when weighing deactivation as a result of rider complaints, Holt said, so a driver who completes 10,000 trips receives more deference than a driver who completes just 10 trips.
Holt also said that Uber’s business “remains healthy,” noting that last week riders took more trips with Uber than “ever before.” She didn’t divulge any specific numbers, nor say whether the company was still experiencing an attrition of customers deleting their accounts.
Huffington said the company is committed to making public the findings of the investigation that is being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder into allegations of sexism and harassment, as well as the company’s first diversity report. Both reports are expected to come out in early April. Expect a new round of “everything is hunky dory” back-patting from the company’s executives at that time.