Travis Kalanick’s final hours as Uber’s chief executive played out in a private room in a downtown Chicago hotel Tuesday.
Just a few months ago, Kalanick’s position at Uber seemed impregnable. He had helped found the company in 2009 and had pushed it into markets around the world.
Kalanick, who was on a trip to interview executive candidates for Uber, was paid a surprise visit. Two venture capitalists — Matt Cohler and Peter Fenton of the Silicon Valley firm Benchmark, which is one of Uber’s biggest shareholders — presented Kalanick with a list of demands, including his resignation before the end of the day. The letter was from five of Uber’s major investors, including Benchmark and the mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments.
Kalanick balked, according to people briefed on the meeting who asked to remain anonymous because the details are confidential. Kalanick, who had built Uber into a transportation behemoth in just eight years, quickly called Arianna Huffington, an Uber board member, for advice. Huffington told Kalanick that the suggestions in the letter were worth considering. That afternoon, Kalanick locked himself in a room with Cohler and Fenton to hash out the best course for Uber.
By the end of the day, after hours of haggling and arguing, that course was clear: Kalanick agreed to step down as Uber’s chief executive.
Wrong turns led to a forced exit
It was the culmination of several months in which nearly all of Kalanick’s support base turned against him. One by one, executives, board members, investors and even close friends slowly fell away as Uber became embroiled in a seemingly ceaseless series of legal and ethical scandals, according to interviews with more than a dozen Uber insiders, former employees, investors and others, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Some of these constituencies ultimately decided that Kalanick had become a liability to Uber and moved to protect their own interests at his expense. In the end, that loss of support — coupled with his having to deal with the recent death of his mother — narrowed Kalanick’s options for staying on as Uber’s leader.
The unclear future
His exit as chief executive raises many questions about Uber’s future, including who will lead the company next. It also faces other urgent tasks, such as replenishing its top ranks, retaining its 14,000 full-time employees, reforming its workplace and repairing its sometimes fractious relationship with its drivers, who are contractors. In addition, Uber must maintain its business, which is growing.
Will Uber pull brakes on India
Even though the company’s operations in India are unaffected since its head Amit Jain continues to be at the helm, there is a lot of uncertainty among the employees since the whole management at the top has been dismantled.
Kalanick’s exit has come as a big blow to the morale of the team since he is hero-worshipped by most of the employees even though his ways may not always have been `ethical’ especially when it came to dealing with law enforcement agencies.
“There has been a meltdown internally after we heard Travis was resigning from the post of CEO. Literally all of us feel like we are just hanging in there, hoping that the new management will continue to keep India as a top priority for Uber, just like the previous top-level management did,“ said another senior Uber official.
Employees are not sure if the new management will have a similar focus for India. “He definitely has a major fan following. Many of us worshipped his go-getter attitude, hell bent on innovation and changing the way transportation worked, despite going against the regulatory authorities to meet that end goal. Without him as the CEO, many of us highly doubt if Uber is going to grow as fast as it did,“ said another Uber executive.