UPDATE: Uber’s Travis Kalanick has resigned as CEO, saying “I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors’ request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.”
To call last week a “doozy” for Uber would be an understatement, with CEO Travis Kalanick announcing a leave of absence from the ride-hailing business following a slew of scandals in recent months and the death of his mother in a boating accident.
Now that the dust has settled somewhat, the question remains: Who can steer Uber into a new chapter?
The onus could fall on a chief operating officer, which the company has actively searched for since March, following allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace from a former Uber engineer. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that Uber interviewed candidates including former Walt Disney Co. COO Thomas Staggs, former Wal-Mart CIO Karenann Terrell, and Helena Foulkes, executive vice president of CVS Health Corp (CVS).
Two sources familiar with the matter said Staggs remains a favorite, due to a proven 16-year-track record at Disney (DIS). In the 12 years spent as CFO, Staggs reportedly worked on deals including the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar in 2006 and the $4 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009, the latter of which yielded a slew of blockbuster films, including “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers.” Staggs also more than doubled overall theme park operating profits to $2.66 billion as chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts.
Uber may also be facing pressure for its COO to be a woman or minority, sources suggested, again, driven in part by recent scandals in its workplace, as well as controversies that include drivers sexually assaulting female passengers.
While several members of the 14-person committee currently running Uber were hailed by sources familiar with the matter as “smart”, “strategic” and “well-respected” inside Uber’s offices and halls, none of them have the obvious C-Suite experience necessary to essentially run the company.
One committee member, Rachel Holt, joined Uber in 2011 after a stint as Associate Marketing Manager at Clorox (CLX). She quickly ascended the ranks, from running operations in Washington, D.C. to running operations for all of North America. But that rapid ascent also means she may lack the experience necessary to run a business with an estimated $68 billion market cap and sprawling global footprint.
“Rachel is absolutely brilliant, but the reality is that she probably is not ready,” one source said.
Dean Crutchfield, a New York-based branding specialist, suggested Uber recruit an experienced, respected female executive such as Pamela Nicholson, president and chief executive of Enterprise Holdings, which includes Enterprise and National car rentals. Otherwise, someone like Instagram COO Marne Levine, who helped evolve the popular photo-sharing app into a bonafide business, could also prove an excellent fit — if Uber could enlist her.
“It would rapidly change the perception of Uber from a media, investor and consumer point of view and send a message that times are changing,” Crutchfield contended. “Plus you typically get a clearer sense of integrity from women execs, because women discriminate less. They generally set up more robust marketing teams, higher levels of publicity and a greater online presence, all things Uber needs for more desirable outcomes.”
In a Medium blog post published on Tuesday, Uber co-founder Garrett Camp acknowledged Uber’s fumbles: neglecting parts of its culture in lieu of rapid growth and failing to build “systems that every company needs to scale successfully.”
Perhaps intended as a first step towards redemption, Uber announced a slew of improvements on Tuesday, including the option to tip drivers. Riders will also be charged by the minute if they keep an Uber driver waiting for more than two minutes.
“I believe that our business can have 10x the impact it has today — once we have additional leadership and training in place, and evolve our culture to be more inclusive and respectful,” Camp wrote. “We should still push hard for what we believe in, and be much more collaborative going forward.”
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