Is angry video the end for Uber's CEO?

Commentary: In a video obtained by Bloomberg, Travis Kalanick gets into an argument with an Uber Black driver. He doesn't come out of it well. Is it time for him to go?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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And the conversation gets heated.

Bloomberg/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Some people's reputations are different from their actual personas.

Can this be said of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick?

On Tuesday, Bloomberg released a video of him taking a trip with two companions in an Uber Black car on Super Bowl weekend in San Francisco.

All seemed serene, save for Kalanick's attempts at moving not like Jagger to Maroon 5 during the ride. Then he got into a conversation with the driver, Fawzi Kamel.

At first, it was all perfectly polite. How easy it was, though, for Kalanick to assert his righteousness and lose his temper.

You're the CEO of a company that's already been vilified for its bro-culture. In previous times, your company been accused of threatening journalists, as well as spying on their Uber rides.

Not that this alleged spying was limited to journalists. There are accusations that politicians and celebrities were stalked too.

Only last week, a former Uber engineer, Susan F0wler, told her story of being constantly sexually harassed by her managers and the apparent refusal of human resources to do much about it. More female engineers came forward with similar accusations. Kalanick promised to investigate.

In leaked audio of a meeting Kalanick had with them, the Uber CEO made promises that the culture would change. There was even a sense that he was tearing up.

Could it be because he feared his career was being torn up? By the culture that he appeared to espouse, that is. By the culture about which two Uber investors felt forced to write a critical open letter last week.

And now this.

What emerges from the video is a boorish know-it-all, barely out of his frat-boy phase. What emerges is someone who's quick to anger and utterly resistant to empathy. What emerges is someone who always knows he's right and is tired of telling people this.

Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kamel tried to explain how he'd lost $97,000, went bankrupt and wasn't happy. Even if Kamel's claims were exaggerated, a mature CEO would have tried to calm him. A mature CEO would have used a sympathetic, even apologetic tone, perhaps inviting Kamel to make further contact to see how the company might be able to help him.

Instead, Kalanick uttered this: "Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!"

Some might suggest that these words apply far more to Kalanick himself.

He's rarely seemed to take personal responsibility for the bad things that have been associated with his company. He's rarely seemed to care quite enough, preferring to helm an organization that's proud of its "Lord Of The Flies" mentality.

This wasn't just a video of a CEO behaving badly. This was a video of a CEO behaving badly toward precisely the employees (technically not quite) on whom his business relies. The very employees, in fact, whom he'll likely get rid of once self-driving Ubers learn not to run red lights.

Kamel told Bloomberg he gave Kalanick one star. Perhaps that's one too many.

Perhaps now, someone -- even the CEO himself (oh, who am I kidding?) -- might decide that Kalanick's star should be extinguished.

Indeed Rafat Ali, founder of paidContent and Skift, believes it's time.

"It's over," he tweeted. "Travis will be resigning soon, there is no way forward from here."

On Tuesday evening, Kalanick himself issued an apology, in which he said he was "ashamed" of his behavior and admitting that "it cannot be explained away."

He added: "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."

The fact that this is the first time says it all.

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