Uber's smartphone app. Photographer: BLOOMBERG/KEREM UZEL
Uber's smartphone app. Photographer: BLOOMBERG/KEREM UZEL

 

San Francisco — After a Sunday meeting that lasted more than six hours, a representative for Uber Technologies’ board said directors approved several changes, without providing clarity on the fates of CEO Travis Kalanick or his confidant and head of business, Emil Michael.

The board approved all recommendations from an investigation it commissioned, led by former US attorney-general Eric Holder, the representative said.

Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice-president at Nestle, is to join the board as an independent director, people familiar with the matter said.

This fulfils one of the recommendations of the investigation, to appoint an independent director.

The ride-hailing company plans to begin implementing the changes early this week and outline them to employees at a meeting on Tuesday.

On the agenda at Sunday’s meeting were a possible leave of absence for Kalanick and potentially parting ways with Michael.

The pair’s involvement in at least two incidents — the mishandling of an Indian rape victim’s medical records and a visit to a Seoul karaoke bar that reportedly prompted a human resources complaint — came up in the course of Holder’s probe, Bloomberg reported.

It is unclear what actions Holder’s team suggested.

The investigation by Holder’s law firm, Covington & Burling, and a separate examination of human resources matters by Perkins Coie were provoked by allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination from former employee Susan Fowler in February.

The scope soon expanded to include more than 200 human resources claims and resulted in the firings of more than 20 employees. Eric Alexander, who oversaw business in Asia, departed amid reports of the India rape controversy last week.

In addition to responding to a cavalcade of scandals, Kalanick has had to grapple with the accidental death of his mother, whose funeral was on Friday.

As attention turns to Uber’s CEO and one of his deputies, the uncertainty highlights a critical weakness in the company’s top ranks.

In the past four months, Uber lost a president and the heads of its autonomous driving unit, finance, mapping, policy, software engineering, and product and growth.

The role of chief financial officer remains open, and it is actively searching for an operating chief to provide leadership help to Kalanick.

Uber is racing to fill holes in its leadership. Last week, the company said it hired Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor, as senior vice-president for strategy and leadership, and Apple’s Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer.

Martello brings experience managing sprawling work forces. She was executive vice-president for global e-commerce at Wal-Mart Stores. At Nestle, she was chief financial officer before becoming head of Asia, Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa for the food giant. She is also a director of Alibaba Group Holding and on the audit committee.

Martello’s power at Uber is likely to be limited because much of the board is controlled by the CEO and his two longtime colleagues.

It was not clear whether her appointment was finalised in Sunday’s meeting.

Bloomberg

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