Has Uber’s PR nightmare reached its apex?
The organization’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, recently apologized after a video of him arguing with an Uber driver was shared online.
On this particular night in early February—Super Bowl Sunday—Kalanick is perched in the middle seat, flanked by two female friends. Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know” plays, and Kalanick shimmies. He clutches his smartphone as the three make awkward conversation. The two women ask when his birthday is, and marvel that he’s a Leo. One of his companions appears to say, somewhat inaudibly, that she’s heard that Uber is having a hard year. Kalanick retorts, “I make sure every year is a hard year.” He continues, “That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.”
The video continues as Kalanick argues with the driver, Fawzi Kamel, about Uber’s fares. After Kamel tells Kalanick that he lost $97,000 because of the CEO’s decisions to decrease prices, Kalanick answers:
Bulls**t. You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own s**t. They blame everything in their life on everyone else.
As the video circulates, Twitter users are using the hashtag #DeleteUber to urge others to boycott the ride-hailing service.
. . . In a little over a week, the company has been accused of sexist and discriminatory behavior by a former engineer, Google parent company Alphabet has sued Uber, alleging Uber stole driverless car technology, and a top Uber executive was forced to resign for failing to disclose an allegation of sexual harassment at his previous employer, Google.
Uber is no stranger to controversy.
In January it paid $20 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it exaggerated earnings to recruit drivers. In the past few years the organization has received criticism for failing to run background checks and for an executive’s remarks about investigating journalists.
On Tuesday evening, Kalanick sent a memo to employees apologizing for his actions. In it, he admitted he needs help with leadership, and said he must “grow up”:
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead . . . and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
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. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.
I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.
However, the apology didn’t quell critics’ voices—nor does it fix the issues Uber has with its tarnished reputation.
“The video shows off Kalanick’s pugnacious personality and short temper, which may cause some investors to question whether he has the disposition to lead a $69 billion company with a footprint that spans the globe,” Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer wrote.
If Uber is serious about fixing its image, changes will have to be made.
. . . As Uber surrounds itself with a coterie of consultants, advisers, investors and cheerleaders, it is distant from the voice in the crowd that whispers, “The emperor has no clothes.” Few of these companies want to hear about, or do, the socioeconomic corporate work that would solidify their long-term survival.
But all is not lost, and Uber is not doomed to the abyss. If the company is serious about curing its very transparent defects, it should develop an independent self-regulatory regime, a robust corporate responsibility program, and a group of external, independent advisers who will be undaunted by Kalanick’s penchant for drowning out voices of dissent.
How would you advise Uber to fix its latest string of bad press, Ragan readers?