The year doesn’t seem to bode well for Uber. After sexual harassment, top execs exiting and an explosive video comes the news of the departure of Uber President Jeff Jones.
Troubles simply do not seem to be ending for the San Francisco-based cab-hailing Unicorn. It all began early this year with the #deleteuber campaign, followed by an explosive blog post by Susan Fowler, which threw light on the sexist and sweatshop work culture at Uber.
Trouble further brewed when the news broke out that Travis Kalanick, Founder and CEO, Uber had fired Amit Singhal, who had come in as VP Engineering, after finding out that Amit hadn’t disclosed the incidence of sexual harassment charges at Google to Uber. This was followed by the video of Travis arguing with a driver that was leaked. Pushed on the backfoot, Travis even announced the hunt for a COO.
Too much to handle
Now, Uber’s President Jeff Jones has quit in less than a year of joining.
According to Recode, Jeff's departure is directly linked to the multiple controversies and the charges of sexism and sexual harassment at Uber. Jeff, however, has cited differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership.’ It is believed that Jeff found the current controversies too much to handle.
Uber has confirmed the departure and in a statement said: “We want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best.”
The note to the staff, which was published on Recode, says,
I wanted to let you know that Jeff Jones has decided to resign from Uber.
Jeff joined Uber in October 2016 from being CMO at retailer Target. In six months, he made an important impact on the company—from his focus on being driver obsessed to delivering our first brand reputation study, which will help set our course in the coming months and year.
After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber. It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly.
Rachel, Pierre and Mac will continue to lead the Global Ops teams, reporting to me until we have signed a COO. Troy Stevenson, who leads CommOps, and Shalin Amin who leads brand design will report to Rachel Holt. Ab Gupta will report to Andrew MacDonald.
Not signed up for this
In a statement to Recode, Jones said,
“It is now clear, however, that 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.”
Jeff clearly believed that the company had more problems than what he had signed up for. Touted as a big hire, Jeff joined Uber last fall after a successful stint at Target. His job was said to be to clean up Uber’s tarnished image. Jeff in that bid had replaced Ryan Graves, who now heads the company’s delivery business – Ubereverything.
Travis and Jeff had met a year ago at the Vancouver TED conference. Silicon Valley giants and Travis himself had pitched it as a necessary move for the ride-sharing company. Jeff is believed to have met with drivers at the beginning of his tenure as president. He is believed to have even written a letter to the drivers as mentioned in Recode: "It’s clear that there’s much we can be doing better. Listening is where we get our best ideas, because they come from you, the people using Uber every day.”
However, matters became worse, when in his second attempt, drivers began flooding Jeff’s Facebook page with complaints and comments during a Q&A session, reports Recode.
Here is Jones’ full statement, as published in Recode:
I joined Uber because of its Mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long-term.
It is now clear, however, that 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.
There are thousands of amazing people at the company, and I truly wish everyone well.
Getting over the ‘bad boy’ image
In Uber’s context, the need to bring in a COO stems from the organisational and perception mess the taxi aggregator finds itself in. In that sense, the much-needed adult supervision is becoming imperative.
The ‘bad boy’ of Silicon Valley is being given a reality check by employees, consumers, and investors alike, and is even facing a massive legal battle with Google over its autonomous car technology. Anyone walking in as a COO will need to wade through, and clean up a crapstorm.
Many in the Valley are hoping that Uber’s new COO does what Sheryl Sandberg did for Zuckerberg and softens Kalanick’s rough edges. Uber is known for notoriously barging into markets and cities without giving two hoots about local norms, regulations, or rules. And yet, the ride-hailing app is attracting billions in funding, and is valued at a little over $60 billion.
Now, the crisis is different. Sexism doesn’t ring well, and nobody wants to or likes working for a sweatshop. But then, dealing with the transition is another ballgame altogether. Founders don’t let go that easily; it’s their ‘baby’ after all. Therefore, the power dynamics and how it play out depends on the founders, on their beliefs and past experiences. Also, not always does one find a Sheryl Sandberg or an Eric Schmidt.
Whether the new COO can sort all the problems at Uber, only time will tell.