Following harassment complaints and resignations, is Uber chief Travis Kalanick right to take an indefinite leave of absence?
James Williams, partner in the employment and pensions team at Hill Dickinson, says YES
In the context of the extensive criticism levelled at Uber on issues ranging from unfair competitive advantage, workers’ rights, safety concerns, dubious business ethics, harassment, discrimination and bullying, the decision of Travis Kalanick to take an indefinite period of absence appears to be the right one.
His absence will allow the company to rebuild its reputation externally and to address the effect of its “toxic” cultural values on staff morale. It will also allow the appointment of a strong COO to deal with the crisis at board level (the roles of COO, CFO and CTO all currently being vacant – a situation compounded by the resignation of a board member for making a sexist comment and the sacking of the head of their Asia-Pacific business for allegedly accessing a rape victim’s medical records).
On a personal level, it seems sensible for Kalanick to remove himself at a time when the recent loss of his mother is understandably likely to affect his commitment to the business.
Elena Shalneva, communications consultant and non-executive director, says NO
Travis Kalanick should stay for two reasons. First, I am in no doubt that some of the claims of sexism at Uber are exaggerated. The former engineer, for example, who published a letter in January describing how she did not get ahead at Uber because she was a woman, seems to have spent most of her time keeping logs of conversations and snitching to HR. On Tuesday, David Bonderman, the co-founder of TPG Capital, resigned from the Uber board because he had joked that women talk too much. He said this to Arianna Huffington, by the way – who does talk a lot. And he resigned almost on the spot. Really.
Second, Kalanick is an exceptional chief executive, and given all the problems that Uber is continuously facing, who else can keep the company alive? While the Uber culture needs normalising, the operating model should stay disruptive and original – and there are very few chief executives around who could pull this off.