clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Uber’s Kalanick still hasn’t decided if he’s going on leave, and it’s causing intense management turmoil

Only hours before the Holder report is released and an all-hands meeting that paints an ugly picture of the car-hailing company under his leadership, the CEO mulls his own fate.

former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
To be or not to be: That is the question for Travis Kalanick.
Michael Porro / Getty

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has still not decided as yet whether he plans to take a leave of absence from the deeply troubled car-hailing company.

Update: Kalanick is taking a temporary leave.

One key fact: He is only hours away from an all-hands meeting in which he is slated to address his employees about the results of a devastating investigation about the failure of his own leadership.

According to multiple sources within Uber, the famously pugnacious CEO is still trying to find a way to remain as its top executive and ride out the storm or minimize the time he needs to step away on a leave of absence.

Kalanick had not decided what to do as of this morning, said those sources, although he appeared to be leaning toward some kind of break.

Or not!

This bizarre Hamlet act — let’s be clear here that any other CEO, except in the founder-worshipping culture of Silicon Valley, would have been fired at this point — is causing intense turmoil among his top execs. Many of them think there needs to be a clean slate at Uber after the recommendations of the Holder report are released to staff today.

Why? Sources said it is an ugly look into a culture riven with incompetent management, inadequate systems and chaotic decision-making, a hostile workplace rife with retaliatory behavior. And, at its center and quite obviously, is Kalanick.

No matter. Apparently Kalanick and some of his loyalists — yes, they are now called that within the company, as if this were a monarchy or the Trump administration — think he can weather the Holder revelations, as he has in past times of crisis.

Already, the report has led to the forced departure of Kalanick’s top confidant, SVP of business Emil Michael, yesterday, which sources sympathetic to him said should be enough to assuage critics.

“Travis has always powered through and thinks he is the only only who can save Uber now,” said one person close to the situation. “He is ignoring the fact that he is the main one to blame for all this damage in the first place.”

Much of the board of Uber thinks Kalanick should step away, at least for a while, although there are different levels of opinion on that. Some board members — such as venture capitalist Bill Gurley — think Kalanick needs to move aside immediately for an unspecified period of time. Others, such as Arianna Huffington, lean toward a leave, but think Kalanick should decide for himself. Still others, like co-founder Garrett Camp, think Kalanick should stick it out.

You see the problem here, because the not-doing-its-job board left it in Kalanick’s hands as to the outcome. Yes, all you investors considering the fiduciary situation, they did that.

Unfortunately for them — and the beleaguered staff of Uber — Kalanick is famous for last-minute decisions and seeking the counsel of a range of different people, while also second-guessing his own previous decisions.

For example, sources said that Kalanick recently shared a meal with Ed Baker — who resigned from the company at the same time that revelations surfaced that he had behaved inappropriately with another employee at a company gathering in Miami — and expressed regret that the product head had left Uber.

He also seems to be ignoring the fact that there are many other shoes yet to drop — I have a closetful myself — about his missteps in the past. That includes even more controversial remarks he and another top exec made in front of employees at another company event in Las Vegas.

Kalanick has a history of delivering inappropriate remarks to staff, such as a memo in which he gave them rules for having sex, while lamenting that he could not partake himself. (You cannot make this stuff up!)

Then, there is the expected fallout that might be linked to him from a lawsuit being waged against Uber by Alphabet over the theft of self-driving car technology, as well as investigations into other suspect practices like “grey-balling,” a tool Uber used to deceive authorities. (You really cannot make this stuff up.)

This has all resulted from an explosive and very brave single blog post by former engineer Susan Fowler, who alleged that there was a pervasive atmosphere of sexism and sexual harassment at Uber, along with a truly dysfunctional management.

Her portrayal of Uber has turned out to be accurate, according to the report by Covington & Burling, which has conducted the investigation. It was led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and his colleague Tammy Albarran.

The report resulted in dozens of recommendations about how to fix Uber, grouped by topic from diversity to governance to training. It also recommended that Michael go, but sources said it has not called for more major firings among execs.

That includes director Ryan Graves, who was in charge of human resources during the time Fowler describes, and CTO Thuan Pham, who was her ultimate boss. Managers below Pham have been fired, said sources, for not reporting her complaints properly.

Perhaps that is a good thing, since the slate of top managers is pretty thin right now — Uber is seeking to hire a COO, CMO, general counsel, head of engineering and now a head of business.

At this minute, Kalanick is being urged to take time off by many members of the senior staff. Many also think he needs some personal time in the wake of the recent death of his mother in a boating accident that also left his father gravely ill.

But, as of right now, Kalanick is undecided, which is making the drama even worse. “Who runs a company like this?” said one person. Well, as it turns out and keeping with Uber’s mode: Travis Kalanick does for the next hour at least.

Or perhaps, as Polonius said in “Hamlet”: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” Keep in mind: In the Shakespeare play, Hamlet ends up killing him by accident.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.