Uber CEO Travis Kalanick seems to have finally figured out that Uber’s biggest problem is Travis Kalanick. In recent weeks, the company has faced a string of controversies, including an explosive sexual harassment accusation and a high-profile lawsuit over allegedly stolen technology. Most recently, a video published by Bloomberg showed Kalanick lecturing a driver about responsibility during an argument over Uber’s falling fares.
In an email to Uber employees that was sent out on Tuesday afternoon, Kalanick acknowledged that his behavior in the video was unacceptable, and that he needed help to change. “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” he wrote. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
Here is the full email:
By now I'm sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead...and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.
I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.
People have learned to expect the worst from Uber
Back in June, when Uber accepted a massive $3.5 billion cash infusion from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, I noted the irony of Uber accepting cash from a government that doesn’t allow women to drive cars and that once punished a rape victim for being alone with a male non-relative. And Uber didn’t just take Saudi Arabia’s cash; it also gave the theocratic regime a seat on its board.
Over the years, Uber has allegedly spied on its own customers, downplayed sexual assault concerns, and one of its executives threatened to dig up dirt on journalists.
In many of these cases, Uber has backpedaled in the wake of a public backlash. Kalanick, for example, tweeted out an apology after the executive’s comments about journalists. But often, Uber only seems to take this kind of step after becoming the target of a social media firestorm.
Now Kalanick claims to recognize that there’s a deeper problem here, and that he’s going to take steps to fix it. But it’s going to take a lot of work for Kalanick and his company to regain public confidence.