UBER IN CRISIS: How a string of high-profile problems led to Uber's worst possible start to 2017

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travis kalanick uber ceo Lovekin/Getty Images for OurTime.org Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Morale at Uber's head office in San Francisco could well be at its lowest level this week after two more executives announced they intend to leave the taxi-hailing giant over the weekend.

Uber president Jeff Jones and Uber vice president of maps and business platform Brian McClendon became the latest high-profile executives to abandon Travis Kalanick's company, which has been  making headlines for all the wrong reasons since the start of 2017.

January: Thousands of users deleted the app

More than 200,000 Uber customers deleted Uber's app over the course of the last weekend in January as part of the #DeleteUber movement.

The movement came about after drivers tried to do business at JFK airport during a taxi strike organised by The New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Drivers were protesting against President Donald Trump's executive order, which prevented travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US.

Kalanick initially seemed reluctant to criticise the executive order. In an email to Uber staff that he shared on Facebook on January 28, Kalanick wrote : "This ban will impact many innocent people - an issue that I will raise this coming Friday when I go to Washington for President Trump's first business advisory group meeting."

Following the strikes, Kalanick came under intense criticism over his close ties to Trump and he was forced to leave Trump's economic advisory council.

February 21: Scathing blog post alleges sexism and gender bias inside Uber

On February 21, the company announced it has launched an internal investigation into its workplace culture after ex-engineer Susan Fowler wrote a blog post about her experience of gender bias and sexual harassment at Uber.

In her post, the Stanford computer science graduate claimed that:

  • Her manager propositioned her and other female Uber workers for sex - "On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't."
  • HR said the manager in question would not be punished because it was his first offence and he was a high performer - "When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man's first offense, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to."
  • HR ignored some of her other complaints and lied to her about it being his first offence - "It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being 'his first offense,' and it certainly wasn't his last."
  • Uber bought leather jackets for over 120 men but not six women - "The director replied back [to Fowler's email asking where the jackets were], saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets ... We were told that if we wanted leather jackets , we women needed to find jackets that were the same price as the bulk-order price of the men's jackets."
  • Her manager threatened to fire her for reporting things to HR - "I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal."
Following the blog post, Kalanick said: "I have just read Susan Fowler's blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It's the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber - and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."

February 22: New York Times article "Inside Uber's Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture" published

On February 22, the New York Times published a bombshell report titled "Inside Uber's Aggressive, Unrestrained Workplace Culture" that suggested Fowler's claims were not isolated. Employees did cocaine during a company retreat and a manager had to be fired after groping multiple women, according to the report. Former employees said they'd notified Uber's leadership, including Kalanick and CTO Thuan Pham, of the workplace harassment.

Following Fowler's blog post, former Google designer and Uber developer Chris Messina tweeted that his experience at Uber was "similarly callous & unsupportive".

Kalanick subsequently recruited ex-US attorney general Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, to conduct a review of the sexual harassment claims.

Holder and Tammy Albarran, who are partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, were hired to look into complaints about one particular manager at Uber.

February 23: Uber finds itself in a bitter legal fight with investor Google

On February 23, Uber was sued by Google , one of its investors, for allegedly using stolen technology. The lawsuit -  detailed in this Bloomberg Businessweek cover story - has been filed by Waymo, Google's self-driving car group. The suit claims that a team of ex-Google engineers stole the company's design for the lidar laser sensor that allows self-driving cars to map the environment around them.

Waymo's lawsuit says that Anthony Levandowski, Uber's self-driving car boss and an ex-Waymo employee, downloaded 9.7 gigabytes of files containing information about the Waymo's self-driving technology to his laptop and then transferred those files to another external storage device. Levandowski claims that he downloaded those files to his computer so that he could work from home.

February 28" Dashcam video shows Kalanick in a heated argument with an Uber driver

On February 28, a video published by Bloomberg showed Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver over falling fares.

"You know what? Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own s---," Kalanick said to the driver. "They blame everything in their life on somebody else."

March 3: Report reveals details of Uber's controversial 'Greyball' tool

On March 3, details of a tool Uber allegedly used to fool government authorities were published . The tool, known as Greyball, reportedly collected data from Uber's app to identify and evade officials in cities like Boston, Paris, and Las Vegas. The New York Times reported that the tool was deployed in markets where Uber was outright banned or being resisted by law enforcement.

Uber did not deny the existence of the tool in a statement it provided to Business Insider. The company said the tool was an important measure to protect drivers by flagging dangerous individuals who might try to harm its drivers.

"This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service - whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers," the company said.

March 17: Leaked data shows Uber's self-driving cars still rely heavily on humans

To make matters worse, data leaked last week showed that Uber's self-driving car project is a long way from becoming a reality.

One particularly alarming statistic was that in the week that ended March 8, the cars travelled only 0.8 miles on average between each time a human driver had to take control, overriding the self-driving tech, otherwise known as a disengagement.

By comparison, Google's self-driving cars are streets ahead. Waymo cars last year were being disengaged at a rate of just once per 5,000 miles, according to data released in February .

Uber mapping car Uber Uber's self-driving car.

Executives to have left the company in the last few weeks include:

  • Jeff Jones, Uber's president
  • Brian Mclendon, Uber's VP of maps and business platform
  • Gary Marcus, head of Uber AI Labs
  • Raffi Krikorian, senior director of engineering at Uber's Advanced Technologies Centre
  • Charlie Miller, a key member of Uber's self-driving car team
  • Amit Singhal, SVP of engineering
  • Ed Baker, Uber's VP of product and growth

Rumours suggest Travis Kalanick could soon step down as CEO

Two "well-placed" sources reportedly told the BBC that Kalanick could step down after Uber appoints a new chief operating officer (COO). However, another source told the BBC that there was "zero chance" of this happening.

Wired published an opinion piece on March 9 titled "Travis Kalanick doesn't need a new COO. He needs a new CEO" while an anonymous Uber shareholder told The Financial Times that it's time for Kalanick to "step back."

"It is time for him to step back and continue to be innovator-in-chief and problem-solver-in-chief," said the anonymous investor, adding that it's also time to "let a grown-up be CEO."

Uber did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

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