According to a variety of media reports, Uber’s board is meeting in Los Angeles today in what may be the most critical sit-down in the company’s eight-year history.
The biggest item on the agenda, according to the New York Times, is whether or not cofounder and embattled CEO Travis Kalanick should take a leave of absence. How strongly the board pushes for this will likely depend on the findings of a months-long investigation spearheaded by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder.
In recent months, on Uber’s dime, Holder’s current employer, the white-shoe firm Covington and Burling, has interviewed hundreds of employees to obtain a picture of Uber’s culture; they were hired after the publication of a widely read account by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti, who blogged in February about the company’s rampant sexual discrimination and harassment issues.
According to Recode, a three-person subcommittee of Uber’s board that’s made up of media executive Arianna Huffington and investors Bill Gurley and David Bonderman have read those findings – which will be presented to the rest of the company on Tuesday – and Recode’s sources say they depict “a landscape of trouble.”
Uber hasn’t responded to our requests for comment, but already, according to the Wall Street Journal, Uber’s chief business officer, Emil Michael, is expected to resign tomorrow morning.
Michael has been a controversial figure since late 2014. At the time, Buzzfeed reported that at a dinner attended by journalists, Michael talked in earnest about hiring opposition researchers to dig up dirt on the company’s critics, including Silicon Valley reporter Sarah Lacy.
Despite a hand slap on Twitter, Kalanick stuck by him. Michael also survived a separate, parallel investigation into Uber by the law firm Perkins Coie, which has spent recent months looking into 200 employee complaints involving bullying, sexual harassment, and gender bias, an investigation that has led to the termination of 20 people.
Whether Michael’s plans to leave will be enough to satisfy the board remains to be seen, but it doesn’t seem likely, particularly in light of the damaging stories that are now leaking regularly about crucial mistakes either facilitated by or implicitly condoned by the company.
In March, for example, the New York Times reported on a years-long program used by Uber to deceive the authorities in markets where it was either battling law enforcement or was outright banned.
Last week, it was revealed that Uber executive Eric Alexander mishandled the medical report of a woman who was raped in 2014 by an Uber driver in India. (She filed a lawsuit against Uber and later settled with the company. Alexander was fired this past Wednesday, following press reports about his conduct.)
A misguided email crafted in 2013 by Kalanick to Uber employees concerning their sexual relations was also made public last week.
It seems likely that even more unflattering stories about Uber, and perhaps Kalanick specifically, will emerge, given the expanding number of enemies the company finds itself facing. In fact, a growing chorus is calling for a major reset before Uber finds itself deeper in the muck.
It’s hard to imagine Kalanick stepping down permanently. As described by the New York Times, Kalanick has outsized voting power owing to the super voting rights that he enjoys, along with his cofounder Garrett Camp, and longtime lieutenant, Ryan Graves, both of whom are also board members. (Graves was formerly the company’s head of operations, with human resources falling under his purview.)
Uber’s other board members include Gurley, Huffington, and Bonderman.
Four director seats remain empty, notes the Times.
Graves seems a highly unlikely choice to step in for his friend, including because he could be seen as partly responsible for the company’s cultural issues in the first place.
On the other hand, it’s fairly easy to see Camp stepping into the role if Kalanick is pressured to step away. By all accounts, Uber was Camp’s idea originally. Camp is also highly regarded in startup and venture circles. Not least, though Camp has been running a startup studio for the last few years and previously cofounded and sold (then reacquired) the discovery engine StumbleUpon, most of Camp’s wealth is also tied up in Uber, which is reportedly valued currently at between $60 billion and $70 billion.
Camp hasn’t returned a request for comment. (Presumably, he’s in that board meeting right now.) But if we had to place a bet, our money would be on him.
Either way, the deck chairs are being shuffled. We’ll see soon enough who winds up where.