Travis Kalanick steps down as chief executive of Uber
A new era begins at the ride-hailing giant
“WE HAVE a lot of attention as it is. I don’t even know how we could get more,” Travis Kalanick, the boss of Uber, said last year. The ride-hailing giant found a way. Mr Kalanick failed to manage the fallout from a series of high-profile blunders and scandals. On June 20th he resigned as chief executive officer of the firm he co-founded in 2009.
Uber is facing several crises, including senior executive departures, a lawsuit over alleged intellectual-property theft, claims about sexual harassment and a federal probe into its use of potentially illegal software to track regulators. Mr Kalanick had previously said he would take a leave of absence, in part to deal with a personal tragedy—the death of his mother in a boating accident. That was not enough for investors in Uber, who asked him to make his leave permanent.
Uber will not change overnight. Mr Kalanick trained it to be unrelentingly competitive, aggressive and ready to break rules. That culture helped make it the most prominent private American technology firm, with a valuation of nearly $70bn. But the impact of Mr Kalanick’s self-styled “always be hustlin’ ” approach has been stark. Uber’s controversies have dented its brand, hurt its ability to recruit the best engineers and cost it customers in America, who are defecting to its rival, Lyft.
The identity of Mr Kalanick’s replacement will be crucial. Uber’s board will seek an experienced boss, perhaps a woman. He or she will need experience running a multinational. Whether the board should hire someone with a background in transport (perhaps from an airline or logistics firm) or a candidate from the technology industry is unclear. Some have suggested that Sheryl Sandberg, who serves as number two at Facebook, would be a good choice, but she may not be willing to jump.
Investors in Uber have accepted that Mr Kalanick will stay on the company’s board (along with his co-founder and another early executive, he controls the majority of super-voting shares) so he is likely to have a strong influence on the firm. He will need to exercise restraint. Twitter, an internet company that is struggling to attract more users, found it hard to settle on a clear strategy in part because several co-founders who once ran it continued to serve on the board and second-guessed the boss.
Mr Kalanick’s departure should be enough to placate some alienated customers. Regulators may treat Uber more kindly, too. Abroad, its scandals have barely registered. In the first quarter of this year it notched up record revenues, of $3.4bn. Its losses, of around $700m, are still high but diminishing. The next chief executive will need to decide whether to chase growth and endure continued steep losses, or cut back on international expansion in order to make more money. After watching Mr Kalanick push the pedal to the metal, Uber’s investors may hope that a more conservative era—in terms of finances as well as culture—is about to begin.