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Turmoil at Uber as Maps VP quits after President

Uber Maps VP President quit
Left: Brian McClendon. Right: Jeff Jones

Uber’s cup of woes seems runneth over. After the shocking resignation of its President Jeff Jones yesterday, today Vice President of maps Brian McClendon also exited the company to “explore politics”. A statement from Uber, however, said McClendon’s exit had been in the works for some time and his last day at Uber was March 28.

Since the beginning of 2017 alone, Uber has faced backlash on:

  • CEO Travis Kalanick’s closeness to President Trump
  • An explosive sexual harassment allegation from a former employee
  • Resignation senior VP of engineering in another sexual harassment case
  • A lawsuit by Google spinoff Waymo alleging the theft of trade secrets
  • A bitter public lashing from venture capitalists Mitch and Freada Kapor describing Uber’s culture as “toxic.”
  • A video footage that went viral showing Kalanick losing his temper with a driver

The details

Last month Senior VP of Engineering, Amit Singhal, was asked to step down within a month of joining after reports emerged that he was involved in a sexual harassment case during his stint at Google. Thought it seems that Singhal apparently didn’t disclose this information to Uber, but the ride-hailing company has been under fire over similar charges following former engineer Susan Fowler’s explosive blog post alleging sexual harassment and pervasive sexism in Uber work culture.

Interestingly, Jones’s statement to the press following his resignation, if read carefully, points to the problems within: “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.” It must be noted that Jones had spent only six months at Uber before taking this drastic decision. On the other hand, McClendon was associated with the company for close to two years and Uber said he would continue as an advisor.

Insiders say though there were problems brewing for some time now, the sudden resignation came following Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s announcement on Twitter that he was looking for a COO. “We’re looking for a Chief Operating Officer—a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey,” is what Uber tweeted on March 7 quoting Kalanick. So far Jones was functioning as the de facto COO too.

The bad boy

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
CEO Travis Kalanick. Photo courtesy Business Insider

Uber’s 40-year-old chief executive’s unconventional and abrasive style have brought Uber under increasing scrutiny. Other than the infamous video where he was seen lashing out at a driver, there was a backlash over Kalanick’s role in President Trump’s advisory committee, especially following the White House travel ban for seven countries where whole of Silicon Valley rose up in defiance. To be fair, Kalanick did criticize the ban later and said he would raise the issue during his business advisory group meeting with President Trump.

Further, a lawsuit by Waymo last week and the revelation of a secret program that mined user data in an effort to thwart regulators are further issues.

Though Kalanick issued an apology after the video of his misbehavior went viral, experts say he will have to show a humbler side of the company moving forward if it hopes to extend its growth.

The Uber brand, with a valuation of $68 billion, has taken a massive hit, and the negativity doesn’t just hit ridership. While experts say the controversies could severely affect weaken the company’s ability to recruit talented employees, particularly women, they are already weighing on Uber’s investors, who see Kalanick’s leadership style and the culture it fosters on the company as “toxic”. In an open letter to Uber board and investors last month, venture capitalists Mitch and Freada Kapor said, “As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture… We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside.”

It will be interesting to see how Uber responds to these crises, and that will be defining for the company. As the VC duo noted: “Current, past and prospective employees will be watching, as will drivers and entrepreneurs and countless others, including these investors.”