Uber's Travis Kalanick is proof mavericks don't always make great managers

Emma Haslett
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Kalanick was gutsy and fearless - but his eye for detail was lacking (Source: Getty)

It takes a certain type of person to build a business from the seed of an idea to the highest valued privately owned company in the world.

Guts, creativity, fearlessness in the face of risk and a certain impetuousness all help. Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who resigned from his post as chief executive this week after shareholders threatened to revolt against him, has these characteristics in spades. He has demonstrated them all in his reactions to a string of scandals which did significant damage to Uber's reputation. Most notably, criticism of the company’s audacious use of its so-called Greyball technology to evade regulators, a heated argument with a driver which later became public when the driver uploaded a video of it to the internet, and the sexism row which led to his being ousted by Uber’s board.

Kalanick’s uncompromising confidence in his own decision-making abilities is typical of many entrepreneurs. His downfall, though, came in his failure to recognise that the very gumption which helped him take his company from minnow to shark made him a poor choice for a chief executive. Leaders are not necessarily managers - and Kalanick’s lack of enthusiasm for the nitty gritty of everyday HR became painfully apparent after complaints from former staff about sexism at the company, which went all the way up to board level.

To be fair to Kalanick, this is not the first time an entrepreneur has become so caught up in his vision, he could not see when it was time to bring in a “professional” chief executive to run his company for him. Although he retains control of a majority of Uber’s voting shares, Kalanick must now give Uber the chance to breathe, grow and repair its tattered reputation.

In the meantime, he can take solace in the fact he is in good company: Steve Jobs’ single-minded perfectionism famously led to him being ousted as chief executive of Apple by his board. The company struggled after he left, launching a succession of unloved products.

When Jobs returned 12 years later - older, wiser but just as uncompromising - he kicked off the process which led to the development of the iPhone, and a new digital era was born. You never know: Kalanick could be so lucky.

Read more: Travis Kalanick has resigned from Uber - is the sharing economy in trouble?

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