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Uber’s new head of leadership says former CEO Travis Kalanick can be redeemed

But Frances Frei, the new VP of leadership and strategy at Uber, wouldn’t weigh in on Kalanick’s future.

The new Uber executive tasked with repairing the company’s culture declined to say Wednesday whether ousted CEO Travis Kalanick should remain involved in Uber’s leadership.

Frances Frei, Uber’s new vice president of leadership and strategy, said that Kalanick could be redeemed, even after cascading scandals forced him to resign in June. But Frei wouldn’t say whether Kalanick, who still sits on Uber’s board of directors, should stay involved in the company after the board chooses his replacement as CEO.

“I think that he should make the decision that he wants,” Frei told Recode’s Kara Swisher at a live onstage taping of the Recode Decode podcast. “He’s a board member. He knows the history of the company. I would not presume to make the decision for him.”

Frei said that Kalanick “wants the best thing for Uber” and that any successor could “gain a lot of wisdom” from him. She described Uber as suffering from low morale and poor leadership, and that she believed Kalanick would do what is in Uber’s interest and not necessarily what was in his own.

Frei, who candidly said she was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” by Uber’s conduct and culture even as she proudly wore an Uber t-shirt, was hired by Kalanick just before the board ousted him. She pointed to tech leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples of CEOs who had successfully redeemed themselves — just like she said Kalanick might.

A former leadership expert at Harvard Business School, Frei portrayed Uber as so obsessed with growth that it declined to train its 3,000 managers, build a culture of accountability or install a functional human resources system. She described Uber as “an organization full of mortal beings” and said the company’s boosters, including herself, are “pretty pissed off that we’ve stumbled.”

“We should be held accountable for it — 100 percent — for all of it,” Frei said. “I want to squeeze every single bit of learning out of what happened.”

Uber’s troubles are widespread: A series of sexual harassment allegations; a lawsuit from Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving subsidiary; and a endless string of senior executive departures.

As for who might replace Kalanick? Frei at one point joked about the next CEO being a “she” — but pushed back on the idea that one hire could solve everything.

“I don’t believe in the savior CEO,” she said.

You can listen to the Recode Decode podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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