Uber Uber Uber… what to do about Uber? The bro-run ride-hailing company has hit a prolonged rough patch made up of a mash up of management fiascos and public relations nightmares, all largely of the company’s own doing. The company has recently had episodes of being bad at reading the political tea leaves, bad at creating a workplace that’s not hostile to women, and bad at having the back of its immigrant employees in the face of Trump. The cause of most, if not all of these issues, appears to be a deep, blinding me-first adherence to its immediate self-interest—picking up fares no matter what, strong-arming municipalities with abandon, and, increasingly, bilking drivers. On Tuesday, the company got dinged yet again when Bloomberg published a deeply unflattering video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver at the end of a black car ride on Super Bowl Sunday.
Just for a frame of reference, here is a real thing Kalanick said to one of his companions sitting in the back seat when asked about Uber having a tough year. “I make sure every year is a hard year,” Kalanick says. “That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.” By the end of the ride, the conversation turned from the back seat to 37-year-old driver, Fawzi Kamel, who takes the opportunity to complain to Kalanick: “you’re raising the standards, and you’re dropping the prices.” Kalanick counters, saying the company needed to drop prices to ward off competitors. Kamel isn’t buying it and they go back-and-forth until Kamel tells him: “I lost $97,000 because of you. I’m bankrupt because of you.” The two went at it again until Kalanick closed by telling the driver: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” “Good luck to you, but I know [you’re not] going to go far,” Kamel responded.
Let’s just say, even in a year of not great looks for Uber, this was a particularly bad look. Kalanick tried to clear things up in note to Uber employees Tuesday evening.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
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.
I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.
After Kalanick’s ride with Fawzi, the driver opened up the Uber app and gave his passenger, the CEO of Uber, a one star rating.