Uber’s new senior vice president of leadership and strategy, speaking at a Recode live event this evening in Silicon Valley, has a clear message for whoever the incoming CEO of Uber might be: understand what you’re getting into.
Frances Frei, in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, said there are three key things any incoming chief executive has to know or understand before taking on the role at the challenged company.
One, she said, is “reverence” for the international nature of its business. “Silicon Valley is its own thing. And then there’s the U.S. And then there’s everywhere else,” Frei said. She also said the new chief executive would have to understand that Uber is both a tech company and an operations company — not an altogether surprising ask.
And finally, Frei said, a new CEO would have to understand and appreciate that the company is an “organization of 15,000 people that has been through a lot.”
By “a lot,” of course, Frei is referring to the claims and reports of sexual harassment, mismanagement, toxic culture, deceptive software, and even overreaches into the medical records of an Uber passenger, that have emerged from within Uber this year.
While Swisher pressed Frei on a number of topics, ranging from gender diversity in tech to more specific Uber issues, Frei took a decidedly academic approach in many of her responses, often citing case studies to support her theories on how to best fix Uber’s culture problems. She also said she disagrees with board member Arianna Huffington’s “zero tolerance” policy, and that she believes it will be “a very small island if it’s only filled with zero tolerance.”
Frei joined Uber in early June, after a successful career at Harvard Business School, one marked by her efforts to give the organization a “gender makeover,” as detailed here. Frei previously was the the senior associate dean of executive eduction at HBS, and started consulting with Uber before accepting a full-time role at the company.
During the Recode interview Frei wouldn’t say who might be on the shortlist of potential Uber CEO candidates, but did quip “Whoever she is...,” before becoming serious again.
“The secret behind every great organization is that it’s a team of people,” Frei said. “It’s not one person.” In other words: not someone like the singular and controversial figure of Travis Kalanick, although Kalanick is still on the company board and is a large shareholder in Uber.