Uber CEO takes leave of absence amid harassment allegations
Uber Technologies Inc Chief Executive Travis Kalanick told employees on Tuesday he will take time away from the company he helped to found, citing the need to grieve for his recently deceased mother and to work on his leadership skills, according to an email from Kalanick seen by Reuters.
Kalanick, 40, did not say how long he would be away from Uber, the ride-hailing firm that he helped turn into the world's most valuable venture-backed company, but has run into problems due to its rough-and-tumble approach to regulations and its own employees.
"During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company," Kalanick wrote in his email. "I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly."
His temporary move is the latest and most important departure from the executive ranks of the company, which is now worth $68 billion.
In his email, Kalanick cited the need to take time off to grieve the loss of his mother, who died in a recent boating accident in which his father was also injured, and also to address his own shortcomings.
"If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve," Kalanick wrote.
His move comes after a months-long investigation led by the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was hired by Uber to look into its culture and practices after a female former employee wrote a public account of her time at the company marred by sexual harassment.
Uber on Tuesday publicly released the recommendations from Holder's report. They call for reducing Kalanick's sweeping authority and instituting more controls over spending, human resources and the behavior of managers.
The company shared the 47 recommendations, which were unanimously adopted by the board on Sunday, with employees during an approximately hour-long all-staff meeting at its headquarters in San Francisco. Kalanick was not at the meeting, a source familiar with the matter said.
The changes mark a pivotal moment for a company under pressure to change its culture and leadership, which have been largely defined by Kalanick's brash approach.
Holder and his law firm were retained after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler in February published a blog post detailing what she described as sexual harassment and the lack of a suitable response by senior managers.
Since then, Uber has suffered a series of setbacks, including a federal probe into the company's use of technology to evade regulators in certain cities, a trade secrets lawsuit filed by Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) self-driving unit, Waymo, and an exodus of top executives.
At Tuesday's employee meeting, human resources chief Liane Hornsey thanked Fowler for being a catalyst for the changes, receiving applause from employees, according to the source.
Holder's recommendations include adding independent members to the board of directors and considering an independent chair. They also suggest changes to company culture, including prohibiting romances between bosses and their reports and creating clearer guidelines on the use of drugs and alcohol.
Other recommendations include holding managers more accountable and mandating manager training. The board will also create an oversight committee to monitor issues such as diversity and an audit committee to oversee spending, and improve the company's gender and racial diversity.
Holder recommended rectifying one particular complaint of employees: moving the evening dinner hour to a time that "signals an earlier end to the work day." Several employees have said that Kalanick pushed back the catered dinner hour at Uber to encourage employees to work later.
Kalanick's leave of absence follows a day-long board meeting on Sunday during which members of Uber's board of directors discussed the matter. His departure, even temporary, is a thunderclap for the Silicon Valley startup world, where company founders in recent years have enjoyed more autonomy and have often become synonymous with their firms.