Uber founder Travis Kalanick has finally been ousted as the company's CEO, and good riddance. The man who proudly defied government regulation, engaged in anti-competitive practices and corporate warfare, allowed employees unfettered access to real-time “God View” tracking of customers, sent employees instructions for sleeping with other employees during a company party, and built a multi-billion dollar business that denies its drivers benefits or even fair wages, is finally gone. But that doesn't mean Uber has changed, and after being run by Kalanick for eight years, it probably never will.
Kalanick created a culture within Uber modeled around himself. For a long time, Kalanick seemed inextricable from Uber; he embodied it the way Steve Jobs embodied Apple and Elon Musk is SpaceX. It took four months of constant controversy sparked by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler speaking out about prolonged sexual harassment at Uber, compounded by years of negative stories, to finally remove Kalanick as CEO. Furthermore, Kalanick won’t be completely gone — he will remain on the company’s board and his DNA will remain ingrained throughout the company. I once spoke to a senior Uber engineer who told me about how Kalanick inspired “mini Travises.” Junior engineers would start copying Kalanick’s mannerisms and expressions in meetings, and mimic his take-no-prisoners attitude to doing business.
Even if a miracle happens and women begin to feel safe at the company, Uber will still employ an army of contractors who are manipulated into driving longer hours, funneled into subprime loans, and couldn’t accept tips until literally yesterday. Uber would have to undergo a radical culture change to fix just the problems inside the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, and the company isn’t even considering changing the things that are a fundamentally evil part of its business model.
Kalanick inspired “mini Travises.”
Those in the Valley say that Kalanick deserves credit for the “hard work” he put into Uber to make it a successful company. Virgin CEO Richard Branson opined on the legacy of Kalnick, a person who built a revolutionary company, not one who created a toxic work environment with a fundamentally immoral business model. “He's created something really special,” Branson said. “He's obviously made some mistakes,” Branson said at an event Wednesday according to Axios, but brushed it off as a side effect of building a company quickly. Former TechCrunch editor Alexia Tsotsis defended Kalanick on Twitter, saying: “Travis leaving Uber is a big loss, and very frustrating for people who know him. He’s not the monster the media turned him into.”
It’s important to remember that Uber is going to talk a lot about changing things. A report by former Attorney General Eric Holder was commissioned by Uber to review “the specific issues relating to the work place environment raised by Susan Fowler, as well as diversity and inclusion at Uber more broadly.” The report came with 30 recommendations, all of which Uber says it will accept. They also suggest a very rotten apple. One recommendation suggests that the board “reformulate Uber’s 14 Cultural Values” which would include eliminating “those values which have been identified as redundant or as having been used to justify poor behavior,” such as “Let Builders Build,” “Always Be Hustlin’,” “Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping,” and “Principled Confrontation.”
“Uber should reformulate its written cultural values,” the report says, “because it is vital that they reflect more inclusive and positive behaviors.” In other words: In addition to hiring adequate HR staff and establishing a diversity board, the company has to rewrite its entire value base.
Some think that Kalanick’s departure is enough reason to begin using Uber again. But this change on its own is primarily cosmetic. Kalanick hasn’t been sanctioned. By contrast, one of the very investors who pushed for him to step down is now participating in his lionization. Following the news of Kalanick’s departure, venture capitalist and Uber board member Bill Gurley said, “there will be many pages in the history books devoted to [Kalanick] — very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.” It’s unclear what Gurley means by “lasting impact” but it’s probably not about Kalanick’s impact as the man who angrily told an Uber driver that “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.” With or without Kalanick, there is no reason to have faith that Uber will stop being Uber.