When the CEO becomes the Crisis Risk: Uber seeks an Ending

Uber’s crisis sage may be nearing an end.  It seems the ending maybe written as a tragedy as the founder who loves his company sacrifices himself by resigning as CEO.  At least that is how the story is appearing in the Uber board would like people to see it with this statement:

“’Travis has always put Uber first. This is a bold decision and a sign of his devotion and love for Uber. By stepping away, he’s taking the time to heal from his personal tragedy while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history. We look forward to continuing to serve with him on the board.’”

Another way to frame the events is that a company cannot hope to fix its culture problems when the person who created and embodies the culture remains as the leader of the organization.  Here is the contrasting view from one news source:

“Mr Kalanick embodied his company’s prevailing attitude: success at all costs. It saw Uber dominate the ride-sharing world, his chutzpah enabling the company to attract investment so effectively that last year Uber alone raised more money than the entire UK start-up scene.”

Investors were the pressure behind his resignation and not just time away.  Investors were weighing the risks.  What is the risk of dumping the CEO legend verses the risk of his continuing to drag down the organization.  This is a great quotation about the existing risks and Uber as a crisis self-generator:

“What started out as a PR inconvenience has left the company without, to name just a few, a chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief technology officer and chief financial officer. Uber is in tatters, engulfed by its own aggression.”

Time is always a critical variable in a crisis.  Crisis time has been standing still for Uber, this may be part of the actions that unfreezes it.  At least for investors, CEO Travis Kalanick was more of a crisis risk than an organizational asset.

Questions to Consider

1.  How might Kalanick’s resignation help the crisis situation?  How might its create a new variant of a crisis?

2.  How can an organization prove to stakeholders that a culture is changing?

3.  What does this case demonstrate about the potential role of board members and investors during an organizational crisis?

4.  What actions could Uber have taken earlier to prevent the crisis/crises from extending over such a long period of time?


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