Uber chief to take indefinite leave; panel to take over

After Mr Travis Kalanick's return, an independent chairman will be appointed to limit his influence, according to an advance copy of a report prepared for Uber's board.
After Mr Travis Kalanick's return, an independent chairman will be appointed to limit his influence, according to an advance copy of a report prepared for Uber's board.PHOTO: REUTERS

Role to be reduced upon return amid moves to restore confidence

SAN FRANCISCO • Uber Technologies chief executive Travis Kalanick told staff he plans to take a leave of absence, without disclosing a return date, as his firm unveiled steps aimed at restoring confidence in the scandal-plagued ride-sharing giant.

The company, which has been facing pressure to rein in a no-holds- barred management style, will be run by a management committee as it attempts to reform its workplace culture, which has sparked charges of harassment and discrimination.

After Mr Kalanick's return, Uber will strip him of some duties and appoint an independent chairman to limit his influence, according to an advance copy of a report prepared for the board.

"The ultimate responsibility, for where we've gotten and how we've gotten here, rests on my shoulders," Mr Kalanick, 40, said in an e-mail to Uber employees. "If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve."

Uber lost or removed much of its management team in recent months as scandal after scandal emerged. The 14,000-plus workforce lacks a clear No. 2 who could run things in Mr Kalanick's stead.

On Sunday, the company's board ousted Mr Emil Michael, Uber's head of business, after accepting all recommendations of a probe conducted by Mr Eric Holder, the former US attorney-general who Uber hired to look into allegations of harassment, discrimination and an aggressive culture.

The 47 recommendations included creating a board oversight committee, rewriting Uber's cultural values, reducing alcohol use at work events and prohibiting intimate relationships between employees and their bosses.

At a staff meeting on Tuesday, the company conveyed the results of a probe to the employees, and said the board will move to give some of the CEO's job responsibilities to a chief operating officer - a position Uber has been actively recruiting for but has yet to fill.

This person would "act as a full partner with the CEO but focus on day-to-day operations, culture and institutions within Uber", the report said. Despite recent turmoil, Uber's business is growing.

Revenue increased to US$3.4 billion (S$4.7 billion) in the first quarter, while losses narrowed, though they remain substantial at US$708 million.

The crisis was sparked by a Feb 19 blog post by former Uber software engineer Susan Fowler, whose nearly 3,000-word blog post chronicled day-to-day indignities women faced at the start-up.

Chief human resources officer Liane Hornsey, who joined Uber in January, said the company will reform. Uber is looking to improve its HR practices and daily life for employees, including flexible hours, clearer guidelines for attaining promotions, a revised performance review process, and work-life balance.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2017, with the headline 'Uber chief to take indefinite leave; panel to take over'. Print Edition | Subscribe