Scandal and investigations aren't the final chapter
Before you read further please know I wrote this column under the influence. I was intoxicated by the niceness of Canadians, having spent an exceedingly pleasant day in Toronto discussing my recently released book about Uber.
Yes, nice Canadians are an international cliché. But it’s true. There’s something hardwired in the national culture that makes Canadians preternaturally reasonable and accommodating. Even when they disagree with you, they do it in a kind way. I learned this fielding questions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management Thursday evening. Even those who hate Uber or seriously doubt its future voiced their disdain or skepticism gently. A Toronto-based Uber employee told me after my talk that the difference between the external and internal perceptions of the company are “interesting.”
Canada’s leading journalists are nice, too. TV host Ben Mulroney of CTV’s Your Morning program told me, after a stimulating interview, that “it doesn’t seem like Uber is loved anymore.” He’s got that right. (He’s also the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and is his dad’s spitting image.) Anna Marie Tremonti, host of CBC’s The Current, whom a friend described to me as “all the best NPR interviewers rolled into one,” threw me a curve ball to start our interview. She asked if I’d taken an Uber to her studio. I arrived in a limousine provided by my publisher.
As a natural-born Midwesterner, I’m pro-niceness. I dwell on the Canadian demeanor because it was a welcome antidote to what has become a toxic climate in the U.S. Also, having spent the day repeatedly addressing whether or not Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick can survive, I thought I’d say something nice about both.
Next week Uber will release results of an investigation into its culture by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Specifically, Holder will pass judgement on allegations of gender discrimination at the company. I’m guessing the report will be accompanied by a handful of management changes and practices at Uber. There’s no question this is a company that has pushed the envelope in all sorts of ways. There’s also no question it has built a global business with tremendous potential—if it can focus sooner rather than later on making money and if it can clean up its behavior.
I think Uber and Kalanick have a shot if only they accept criticism and act accordingly. Too nice of an assessment? Blame it on Canada.