According to the latest round of rumors, ride-hailing giant Uber has slated Jeffrey Immelt, the former chief executive of General Electric GE, to fill its vacant CEO role—a position most recently filled by the controversial Travis Kalanick.
The news that Immelt is Uber’s top candidate was first published by Recode over the weekend, and according to this report, the GE chairman has emerged as the candidate preferred by the majority of Uber’s board, although two other executives are also being considered.
Uber In Chaos
Tensions at Uber remain high as of late, while former chief Kalanick, who also co-founded the company, faces a lawsuit from one of its major investors, Benchmark. The venture capital firm is accusing Kalanick of attempting to load the board with allies that would have been willing to keep him as a director after he resigned as CEO in June.
Of course, we should remember that Kalanick was basically forced out by Uber’s board in the wake of a scandal related to the company’s reportedly toxic office culture. Kalanick’s resignation came just a few weeks after Uber fired 20 employees as a result of an internal investigation into widespread claims of sexual harassment and misconduct (also read: He's Out: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Has Resigned).
What does this all mean for Uber’s next CEO? Well, it means whoever inherits the position will not only be taking over the reins at the world’s highest-valued public company—they will also be charged with leading the innovative brand through an incredibly public controversy that has polarized its employees and investors.
It’s certainly interesting that Recode’s report mentions that none of Uber’s remaining candidates are women, as many speculated that a female executive would be better prepared to address the company’s problematic workplace culture, which has plagued the ride-hailing service—and many other Silicon Valley tech giants over the years.
Whether Jeff Immelt is properly prepared to confront the undesirable norms that breed toxic tech office spaces is a question we simply don’t have the answer to right now; nevertheless, the former GE chief has quite the resume—and his fair share of controversial decisions—to bring with him to Uber.
Who Is Jeff Immelt?
Immelt has been at GE his entire career, starting at the company after graduating from Harvard in 1982. He worked his way up through several positions in the company’s plastics, appliances, and healthcare businesses before eventually landing at the helm of GE’s Medical Systems division.
After the legendary Jack Welch announced his retirement in 2000, Immelt was selected as the company’s next CEO. He took over the position on September 7, 2001—just four days before the tragic attacks of 9/11, which would prove to be Immelt’s first major challenge as CEO.
General Electric tragically lost two employees on 9/11, and the attacks reportedly cost the company’s insurance business nearly $600 million. It was Immelt’s maneuvering of this crisis, as well as his response to the Enron scandal, that earned him widespread respect in just his first year as chief executive.
As Enron brought increased scrutiny to the world of financial reporting, Immelt publicly defended his company’s practices, even going as far as to offer up expanded reports that were far more detailed than traditional SEC filings.
Immelt also famously led GE through the 2008-09 financial crisis. The company eventually decided to divest the majority of its financial units under GE Capital, which was one of several notable divestiture-based restructuring moves made under Immelt.
During his tenure, GE also sold its NBCUniversal division to Comcast CMCSA and shed its GE Plastics unit in a deal with Saudi Basic Industries. Immelt’s restructuring plan also involved the sale of over 4,400 properties, including warehouses, factories, malls, apartment buildings, and other commercial properties of GE Capital Real Estate to a consortium led by private equity firm Blackstone and Wells Fargo WFM.
Immelt is also credited with recognizing that the Internet of Things—and specifically the “Industrial Internet”—could be a major growth driver for GE. The company’s Predix software is now a major player in the industrial IoT applications space, and Immelt once noted his belief that this business could “transform GE.”
Of course, Immelt’s legacy isn’t spotless. Throughout his time as CEO, GE was dealing with consistently slumping share prices and a volatile employment environment.
Shares of GE are down nearly 60% from the highs reached just before Immelt’s appointment, and although he served on an Obama-era presidential council focused on creating American jobs, employment levels at GE fluctuated throughout Immelt’s tenure.
Immelt and General Electric have also been criticized for largely avoiding corporate income taxes. Still, Immelt has been named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” by Barron’s three separate times, and he earned The Financial Times’ “Man of the Year” award in 2003.
While he has not yet addressed the specific challenges that are facing Uber right now, it’s clear that Immelt has extensive experience navigating intense and evolving economic, political, and cultural environments.
And right now, it looks like Uber is willing to settle on someone that’s just “good enough.”
“We know it is never going to be a perfect choice, but everyone is becoming exhausted,” an unnamed source told Recode. “We need someone with the skills to move us along.”
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