Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Picture: REUTERS
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco — Uber said on Tuesday CE Travis Kalanick would take an indefinite leave of absence as it unveiled steps aimed at restoring confidence in the scandal-plagued ridesharing giant.

The pioneering company has been facing pressure to rein in a no-holds-barred management style led by Kalanick and to reform its workplace culture, which has sparked charges of harassment and discrimination.

"It’s hard to put a timeline on this — it may be shorter or longer than we might expect," the 40-year-old Kalanick said in an e-mail to Uber employees.

"If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve." Kalanick said one of the reasons for his stepping aside was the recent death of his mother, explaining that "I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve" and "to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team".

Uber simultaneously released a 13-page document calling for major reforms at the company based on a probe led by former US attorney general Eric Holder, who investigated allegations of misconduct and ethical lapses.

Implementing the recommendations "will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated," said Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief human resources officer. "While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers."

The report, recommendations of which were adopted by the board, said Uber "should reformulate its written cultural values" to "reflect more inclusive and positive behaviours".

The Holder investigation was aimed at cleaning up a corporate culture marred by accusations of harassment, discrimination and cutthroat practices to thwart rivals and evade regulators.

The company is facing questions about its covert use of law enforcement-evading software and tactics apparently aimed at disrupting rivals in the ride-sharing business.

The report said the reforms should focus on "tone at the top, trust, transformation and accountability".

It said the company should "review and reallocate responsibilities of Kalanick", and that creating the job of chief operating officer, which was discussed in recent months, "should address this concern to some extent".

Reforms should focus on "tone at the top, trust, transformation and accountability", the report said.

Uber should "review and reallocate responsibilities of Kalanick", the report added, noting that creating the job of chief operating officer, which was discussed in recent months, "should address this concern to some extent".

Uber should also consider installing an independent board chair, "to serve as an independent check on Uber’s management" and to show it is taking reforms seriously. The Holder report also called for "an ethics and culture committee" to oversee Uber’s efforts to maintain ethical business practices.

The report said Uber should implement mandatory training for managers and key leaders, create a "robust" complaint process and take steps to ensure more minorities are hired.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Carnegie Mellon University fellow who follows the technology industry, welcomed the steps unveiled by the company.

"I’ve been most negative about Uber, but am delighted with report by Holder & @ariannahuff. Addressed key issues, made solid recommendations," Wadhwa tweeted, referring to board member Arianna Huffington.

"Also commend (Kalanick) for stepping aside and doing what is right for company and employees. Expect he and company will be stronger & better."

Uber, which is the world’s richest venture-backed startup valued at about $68bn, operates in dozens of countries despite problems with regulators in many jurisdictions and protests from established taxi operators.

The San Francisco group parted ways this week with its number two executive, Emil Michael, who had been reportedly linked to a number of questionable practices at Uber, including a visit to a South Korean escort-karaoke bar and an attempt to dig up embarrassing information on journalists.

Last week, Uber said it had fired 20 people following preliminary results of the investigation, after examining 215 claims of discrimination, harassment, unprofessional behaviour, bullying, retaliation and "physical security".

It remains to be seen what impact will be felt by the absence of Kalanick, who has been the driving force behind Uber despite a series of embarrassing missteps.

Kalanick said that during his absence "I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly."

AFP

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