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Business

Board Adopts Report on Uber's Culture, Silent on CEO Leave

A law firm was hired to investigate complaints of widespread sexual harassment and other deep-seeded cultural problems

In this March 15, 2017, file photo, a sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber car service at LaGuardia Airport in New York, photo: AP/Seth Wenig, File
2 weeks ago

DETROIT – Uber’s Board of Directors has adopted a series of recommendations about the company’s corporate culture from former Attorney General Eric Holder, but it was silent late Sunday on whether it would approve a leave of absence for the ride service’s embattled CEO.

A spokesman confirmed that the board met with Holder and Tammy Albarran, both partners with Covington & Burling LLP, a law firm hired to investigate complaints of widespread sexual harassment and other deep-seeded cultural problems at Uber.

In this July 10, 2012 file photo, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick arrives at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Photo: AP/Paul Sakluma, File

Board members voted unanimously to adopt all of the firm’s recommendations, which were to be released to employees on Tuesday, the spokesman said.

He would not comment on any further actions taken by the board, including whether it discussed the future of CEO Travis Kalanick. Multiple media outlets reported Sunday that the board was considering a leave of absence for Kalanick.

Uber Technologies Inc. has been rocked by accusations that its management has fostered a workplace environment where harassment, discrimination and bullying are left unchecked.

Uber announced last week that it fired 20 employees for harassment problems after a separate investigation by a different law firm.

Under Kalanick, Uber has shaken up the taxi industry in hundreds of cities and turned the San Francisco-based company into the world’s most valuable startup. Uber’s valuation has climbed to nearly $70 billion.

But Kalanick has acknowledged his management style needs improvement. The 40-year-old CEO said earlier this year that he needed to “fundamentally change and grow up.”

In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote on a blog that she had been propositioned by her boss in a series of messages on her first day of work and that superiors ignored her complaints. Uber set up a hotline for complaints after that and hired the law firm of Perkins Coie to investigate.

That firm checked into 215 complaints, with 57 still under investigation.

Uber has been plagued by more than sexual harassment complaints in recent months. It has been threatened by boycotts, sued and subject to a federal investigation that it used a fake version of its app to thwart authorities looking into whether it is breaking local laws.

Kalanick lost his temper earlier this year in an argument with an Uber driver who was complaining about pay, and Kalanick’s profanity-laced comments were caught on video.

In a March conference call with reporters after that incident, board member Arianna Huffington expressed confidence that Kalanick would evolve into a better leader. But Huffington, a founder of Huffington Post, suggested time might be running out.

He’s a “scrappy entrepreneur,” she said during the call, but one who needed to bring “changes in himself and in the way he leads.”

The board meeting comes fresh on personal tragedy in Kalanick’s life. His mother was killed in late May after the boat she and her husband were riding in hit a rock. Kalanick’s father suffered moderate injuries.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Chief Business Officer Emil Michael is planning to resign as soon as Monday.

The company has faced high turnover in its top ranks. In March, Uber’s president, Jeff Jones, resigned after less than a year on the job. He said his “beliefs and approach to leadership” were “inconsistent” with those of the company.

In addition to firing 20 employees, Uber said Tuesday that it was hiring an Apple marketing executive, Bozoma Saint John, to help improve its tarnished brand. Saint John most recently was head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes.

TOM KRISHER
BERNARD CONDON

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