“Bullshit,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tells driver Fawzi Kamel in a leaked video, after being told that his company’s lack of consistency is severely impacting his workforce. “You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”
Kalanick is undoubtedly eating his words this month, with Uber continually making international headlines for all the wrong reasons. It started with a soft response to Trump’s so-called immigration ban, and a decision to ignore the taxi strike that followed in its wake at JFK Airport. What came next was the #DeleteUber movement that saw 200,000 users delete the app from their phone, and ended with Kalanick resigning from Trump’s business advisory council.
Perhaps most damaging of all was software engineer Susan Fowler’s damning blog post, Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber, in which she describes the organisation’s embedded sexism and poor management hierarchy. When Fowler arrived at Uber, 25% of her colleagues were women. Only 3% remained by the time she left.
Over the last 24 hours, Kalanick has once again taken centre stage in the drama surrounding Uber. In a video leaked to Bloomberg, the CEO is seen in a verbal confrontation with a driver who tells him the company’s decision to drop rates is hurting those who keep his business operating. Kamel tells him it is no longer feasible for drivers taking part in Uber’s premium Black service to buy or lease the necessary vehicles because the company’s inconsistency and anti-worker attitude are sending many to the point of financial ruin. Kalanick refused to acknowledge this.
Uber Black’s rates have fluctuated noticeably over the last five years. In 2012, riders paid $4.90USD per mile. Today, the charge is only $3.75USD per mile. In 2015, SherpaShare reported that the average Uber trip was 6.4 miles. Presuming the same growth rate in 2016, the average trip would be 7.2 miles. By 2012’s rate, drivers would have made $35.28USD for the journey. In March 2017, however, they would receive $27USD, nearly 25% less.
In short, drivers are travelling further for less money.
Shortly after the video’s release, Kalanick made a public apology on the Uber website:
“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
After a month of growing pressure preceded by years of controversy, it’s taken a personal moment for Kalanick to realise he is failing as a leader, and that’s just what Uber needed to get itself back in the fast lane.
Uber’s issue has always been that it’s end goal is a system of self-driving cars and automated systems supported, but not dominated by a human workforce. That goal is still far off, and one that can only be achieved via the commitment of a human workforce today, and yet Uber have always treated them as secondary elements of their grand scheme. Whether it’s labelling workers as contractors rather than employees in order to avoid providing them with benefits, or only providing men in the engineering department with special jackets because there weren’t enough women for them to receive a discount from the manufacturer, Uber’s obsession with the bottom line is potentially even a greater threat to their future than their competitors.
Kalanick needs to get the help he promised to receive, or make way for a CEO who can put Uber’s priorities in order. Failure to do so can only serve to demonstrate how little difference a $64 billion valuation actually makes to a company’s longevity.