Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Resigns
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The controversial CEO of Uber has now resigned. Travis Kalanick stepped down from the ride-sharing service he helped found. In a statement, Uber's board said Kalanick had always put Uber first. But they also said his removal will give the company room to, quote, "fully embrace a new chapter in Uber's history."
Uber has transformed the transportation industry in towns and cities across the United States and now around the world. And this was actually something Kalanick seemed to predict when I interviewed him back in 2012 at a launch party for Uber in Washington, D.C.
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TRAVIS KALANICK: I'm pretty damn sure that in five years, we're going to be an integral part of the fabric and transportation system that is in D.C.
GREENE: And that was an understatement. It applies to a lot of cities. What he didn't predict, though, was that five years later, he would be out of his job.
And for more on this, we're joined by Mike Isaac. He's the New York Times technology reporter who first broke the news of Kalanick's resignation. And Mike, sounds like this was not a quiet thing. It was drama at Uber headquarters yesterday.
MIKE ISAAC: Oh, my gosh. It was quite a dramatic moment. I think - kind of like most of Travis Kalanick's career, he's kind of not taking any of these moves lying down and has fought pretty much the whole way in order to get Uber to where it is today. And when he was sort of presented with this ultimatum yesterday by some of his top investors, he wasn't taking it lightly. And so what officially happened was, you know, five of Uber's largest shareholders said, we are concerned with your governance. Obviously, we've put this to you many different times. And because of the voting power he has in his company, he has the decision whether or not he wants to stay at the top. And finally, they sort of threatened him and said, look, we're going to go public with this unless you really consider stepping down. And after many hours of debate...
ISAAC: ...He decided to finally do so.
GREENE: Can you just remind us how he got into this position? If I remember, I mean, he talked about, like, just being out on the streets of San Francisco, I think, and saying I want an easy way to find a ride. So I have this idea (laughter). How did he get in this position?
ISAAC: Yeah - I mean, it's funny. If you - I live in San Francisco. And if you were back in San Francisco in 2009, you would be very hard pressed to find a taxi cab anywhere on the street, unlike, you know, say, New York or even D.C. And so this was like around, if you remember, the dawn of - the iPhone was coming out and apps were suddenly becoming, you know, a thing.
ISAAC: (Inaudible) Like how they are now. And so essentially, couldn't find a cab - how about if you could make it easily an option to call a cab ride to you from the - a tap of your phone? And that sort of...
GREENE: Sounds so easy. Don't you wish you or I had come up with this idea (laughter)?
ISAAC: Oh, my God. It's so simple, but it's perfect.
GREENE: Yeah. Well, I mean...
ISAAC: I mean, everyone loved it.
GREENE: Everyone loved it. And, I mean, now you have Uber, a global player valued at $70 billion, 500 cities worldwide.
But what does his story tell us largely about a wildly successful upstart company but with a workplace culture of, you know, it sounds like sexual harassment, poor leadership? Is there a lesson here?
ISAAC: Yeah. I think a lot of folks - and to be sure, like, Travis Kalanick is someone who I believe and I think a number of people believe that really took this company to where it is now. He's very aggressive. He's had to fight incumbent taxi industries in so many of these markets that really controlled how transportation worked. And, you know, you could argue that without that sort of aggressive spirit, they wouldn't get to where they are today.
Now the question is, do you need that type of aggression once you've essentially already upended the transportation industry? And, you know, if you're already sort of the dominant player, can you bring in a more traditional CEO that, you know, say, an initial public offering might be more friendly to or might sort of play well with others, like Travis Kalanick has had a very difficult time doing for most of his career?
GREENE: So the lesson may be - be aggressive, but also realize when you don't have to be anymore and pay more attention to potential problems in the workplace, which we saw.
Mike Isaac is technology reporter for The New York Times, breaking the story last night that Uber's CEO, Travis Kalanick, is stepping down. Mike, thanks for the time.
ISAAC: Hey, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.