Key Uber executive resigns as inquiry report looms

A key Uber executive left the company today as the ridesharing giant prepared to release results of a far-reaching independent inquiry into misconduct and ethical practices. Emil Michael, a senior VP close to CEO Travis Kalanick, left the company.

By: AFP | San Francisco | Published:June 13, 2017 12:26 pm
Uber, inquiry into misconduct, Uber ethical practices, workplace culture, software to disrupt rivals Michael had been linked to a number of questionable practices at Uber, including a visit to a South Korean escort-karaoke bar and an attempt to dig up embarrassing information on journalists. (Source: Bloomberg)

A key Uber executive left the company today as the ridesharing giant prepared to release results of a far-reaching independent inquiry into misconduct and ethical practices. A source familiar with the matter said Emil Michael, a senior vice president reported to be close to chief executive Travis Kalanick, left the company.

Uber was bracing for more turmoil — with some reports saying Kalanick himself may take a leave of absence — with a report prepared by former US attorney general Eric Holder set to be given to employees tomorrow. Uber’s board met yesterday with Holder and consultant Tammy Albarran to discuss the findings and “unanimously voted to adopt all the recommendations” of the report, according to the source.

The recommendations were not immediately known, but Uber is facing pressure to rein in its no-holds-barred management style led by Kalanick and to reform a workplace culture criticized for discrimination and cutthroat practices. Uber also faces questions about its covert use of law enforcement-evading software and tactics apparently aimed at disrupting rivals in the ridesharing business.

As part of the revamping at Uber, Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello was named as an independent board member, according to a source close to the company. Michael had been linked to a number of questionable practices at Uber, media reports said, including a visit to a South Korean escort-karaoke bar and an attempt to dig up embarrassing information on journalists.

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An email from Michael announcing his departure said he would be replaced by another vice president, David Richter, according to the New York Times, which first reported Michael’s departure. “It’s safe to say that this week will be the week we finally learn just how committed Travis Kalanick and the rest of the senior leadership team at Uber is to meaningful cultural change,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research.

The report comes after a series of embarrassing revelations for the company over the past few months. Last week, Uber said it had fired 20 people following preliminary results of the investigation, after examining 215 claims of discrimination, harassment, unprofessional behavior, bullying, retaliation and “physical security.”

The company also ousted Eric Alexander, who headed Asia-Pacific operations, after reports said he read and discussed medical information about a woman raped in India in 2014 during an Uber ride. Last month, Uber fired executive Anthony Levandowski, who came from Google’s self-driving car unit now known as Waymo, for failing to meet a deadline to turn over information for an internal investigation.

Waymo’s lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup. Top engineering executive Amit Singhal resigned in February after the ride-sharing titan learned he ended his career at Google after a sexual harassment complaint, reports said. In March, Uber’s president Jeff Jones resigned after just six months.

Also Read: After argument with driver, Uber CEO promises to ‘grow up’

The woes so far have not hit Uber’s growth trajectory, but some analysts say its problems won’t fixed without a change in leadership. The privately-held firm is valued at about $68 billion, making it the largest “unicorn” or venture-backed startup.

Uber does not file full financial reports but indicated its bookings last year doubled to USD 20 billion, with net revenue totaling USD 6.5 billion and an adjusted net loss of USD 2.8 billion not counting China operations that it sold.

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