​Uber CEO isn't leaving, but supposedly he's going to change

The beleaguered ride-hailing company says it's addressing its "cult of the individual."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

After a rough few weeks, CEO Travis Kalanick said Uber is hiring a chief operating officer to help run the ride-hailing company.

James Martin/CNET

A long slew of scandals have made things so bad for Uber over the past couple of months that the future of the ride-hailing service has been called into question. Some have even said the company founder and CEO Travis Kalanick should step down.

But, it looks like that's not going to happen.

The ride-hailing company said Tuesday that Kalanick is here to stay and he is doing everything he can to correct his misdeeds.

"It's clear that Uber and the whole ride-sharing industry would not be where it is today without Travis," Uber board member Arianna Huffington said during a media call on Tuesday. "I have seen, personally, Travis' evolution."

The past two months have been rough for Uber and its leader. It all started with a #DeleteUber movement in January, which led to the loss of 200,000 customers, and things just got worse from there.

In short: female employees accused the company of sexual discrimination; investors lambasted the company for have a culture "plagued by disrespect;" a leaked video showed Kalanick telling off a driver; Google filed a lawsuit against the ride-hailing company claiming it stole self-driving car technology; a New York Times expose uncovered Uber's secretive Greyball tool meant to thwart authorities; and a long list of top executives have stepped down.

The most recent executive to resign was Uber President Jeff Jones, former chief marketing officer for retail giant Target, who said on Sunday, "The beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business."

During the media call on Tuesday, Uber Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey reiterated the difficulty of the last few weeks. She was hired right before the #DeleteUber movement took off.

"Uber is disruptive -- and disruption demands the confidence to be bold," Hornsey said. "What I have seen though, is that this has translated internally to what I would call a cult of the individual. We now need to expend genuine effort ensuring the individual is never more important than the team -- not ever."

Hornsey said that going forward Uber plans to release its first diversity report by the end of the month and hold training programs for employees about why diversity matters. The company has also created a call-in line that employees can use to make anonymous complaints.

Uber is additionally looking to smooth its relationship with drivers. Rachel Holt, head of Uber's US and Canada business, said the company is streamlining drivers' earnings statements, amping up support lines and readjusting the system used to penalize drivers after rider complaints.

"Across our product, operations and customer support teams, we've underinvested in the driver experience and relationships with many drivers are frayed," Holt said. "These examples are just a start in our effort to overhaul our relationship with drivers, and we know we have a long way to go."

After the video of Kalanick arguing with the Uber driver was leaked, the CEO sent an email to all employees apologizing for his behavior.

"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," Kalanick said. "This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."

Uber followed up by announcing plans to hire a chief operating officer to partner with Kalanick in leading the company. Huffington said Tuesday that interviews for this position are already happening.

"I've told Travis and the management team, I will be holding their feet to the fire," Huffington said. "Going forward there can be no room at Uber for brilliant jerks and zero tolerance for anything but totally respectable behavior in an equitable workplace environment."

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