Tech Industry

Uber's Travis Kalanick to make grand, Steve Jobs-like return?

Commentary: A report suggests the former Uber CEO is telling people he's just taking a time out.

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


Does he intend to return to the top?

James Martin/CNET

When it comes to Uber, it's easy to believe many things.

The company has managed to translate a swashbuckling image into one awash with controversy.

The situation reached a peak in June, when powerful investors asked co-founder Travis Kalanick to step down as CEO

Of course, he hasn't gone very far. He still sits on Uber's board. And now Recode reports Kalanick has been telling people, including one candidate for his old job, that he's "Steve Jobs-ing it."

Should you be unfamiliar with this concept, it refers to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was fired from that position, only to be rehired in 1996 through the acquisition of his new company NeXT.

It was, of course, a glorious return. Which makes one wonder whether Kalanick imagines himself returning to some level of similar glory.

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

Despite changes in board membership and the hiring of Apple Music's Bozoma Saint John as the company's first chief brand officer, Uber appears to have no clear direction.

Currently, it's being run by a 14-person committee. The New York Times suggests the board is disunited, with some members being very keen to hire Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. (Whitman withdrew her name from consideration last week.)

Uber also appears to have a leak problem on par with the White House. And what remains unclear is how welcome Kalanick would be if he did manage to machinate his way back to power.

Under Kalanick, Uber's enormous problem with sexual harassment appeared to reach a peak. Yet when Kalanick lost the CEO slot, 1,000 employees were said to have signed a petition for him to be reinstated.

If you were a candidate to be Kalanick's replacement, why would you want the job if you weren't given some inkling as to how the boardroom shenanigans might shake out?

Perhaps the idea of a triumphant return is attractive to Kalanick. 

How, though, would he unite the company? And, in the meantime, how could anyone look at a new CEO as anything other than a stooge if that executive were hired with Kalanick's approval.

I fear that Uber will be sailing through rocky waters for some time yet. As well as having no CEO, the company still has no COO or CMO. It hasn't had a CFO for more than two years.

That's more than a little careless, even for Silicon Valley.