As Uber's new boss Dara Khosrowshahi jets to London for licence talks with TfL, he faces a board battle with Travis Kalanick too

Lynsey Barber
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Uber is now facing a power play from ousted boss Travis Kalanick (Source: Getty)

Uber's newly installed boss Dara Khosrowshahi is facing fresh trouble on home turf as he prepares to jet to London for crunch talks over its licence to operate in the capital.

Having taken the driving seat at the top tech firm just weeks ago, Khosrowshahi is already facing multiple battles in a hangover from his predecessor on both sides of the Atlantic.

Founder and ousted chief executive Travis Kalanick made a major power play over the weekend, wielding his authority over appointing two new board members. Ursula Burns, a former chief executive of Xerox and John Thain, an ex-boss of Merrill Lynch have filled two vacant seats on the already divided board controlled by Kalanick in a surprise move that has drawn criticism.

A current employee who heads up commercial and strategy operations at the tech firm tweeted: "To be clear, I am definitely against appointing a man who helped sink the world in 2008 to my employer's board. Method also questionable."

Read more: Uber says it's not part of the gig economy at tribunal on drivers' rights

David Plouffe, the former Obama campaign strategist who used to head up communications at the troubled ride-hailing firm, likened the latest manoeuvrings to those going on in the White House in an unfavourable way. "Thinking of my former colleagues at Uber tonight. The Trump WH [White House] seems sane in comparison. Confident Dara will find a way forward," he tweeted.

Uber said in a statement it was "a complete surprise" to the company and the board.

The move comes as the board considers a proposal aimed at curtailing the rights of supervoting shareholders such as Kalanick. The plan is backed by Khosrowshahi and Goldman Sachs, one of Uber's investors, according to reports.

Kalanick said of the new appointments that they came "in light of a recent board proposal to dramatically restructure the board and significantly alter the company's voting rights".

"It is therefore essential that the full board be in place for proper deliberation to occur, especially with such experienced board members as Ursula and John," he added.

But Khosrowshahi will this week also face a crucial test in London in a more public battle beyond the boardroom, where he will seek to reassure the transport regulator that it can make changes in an effort to regain its permission to operate in the capital.

He will seek to smooth over what has been an increasingly fraught relationship with Transport for London (TfL) that culminated in its licence not being renewed in a shock decision less than a fortnight ago.

A meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday between Khosrowshahi and TfL transport commissioner Mike Brown, the organisation's top boss.

Read more: Uber CEO writes to Londoners saying sorry "we got things wrong"

The challenge facing the new Uber chief is to distance himself from his predecessor's often aggressive and dismissive approach to regulation. Khosrowshahi has already offered an olive branch in the matter, apologising to Londoners in a softer approach largely unthinkable under Kalanick. And Uber has also promised to appoint a UK chairman, the first role of its kind signalling how crucial operations are in the capital.

While the gig economy and workers rights have been a high profile issue, talks will most likely focus on tackling safety issues, cited by TfL in its decision that deemed it not "fit and proper" to hold a licence.

Uber has made several concessions in recent months on the matter of workers rights amid wider criticism of the gig economy. But such a matter is likely to take a back seat since it is not under the direct purview of the regulator, while criticism and concern around Uber's approach to safety has increased in recent months.

While the travails of Uber in what is now being dubbed its annus horribilis may be well known to Khosrowshahi, the speed and seriousness with which the latest problems have emerged leaves him facing a baptism of fire on two continents.

Read more: A reminder of the very long to-do list of Uber's new boss

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