Uber Hires Harvard Professor to Help Embattled CEO Be a Better Leader

Jun 05, 2017

It looks like Uber is making good on its promise to get leadership help for CEO Travis Kalanick, who is under fire following allegations of sexual harassment at the company.

The ride-hailing giant announced today that it has hired academic Frances Frei for its first senior vice president of leadership and strategy.

Frei, who is a professor and an associate dean at Harvard Business School, will act as a partner to HR head Liane Hornsey and report to Kalanick.

“She is uniquely qualified for this role—and we know we all have a lot to learn from her,” Uber said in a statement. “Her expertise will be invaluable to the company as we take on the next chapter.”

Frei has been consulting with Uber for several months, and the company has now brought her on full-time. She will commute from her home in Cambridge, Mass. to work with Uber’s team in San Francisco, according to tech news site Recode.

“My goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed,” she told Recode.

The company faces a number of leadership challenges. They began in February when an ex-Uber engineer published a blog post in which she said she had repeatedly complained about sexual harassment at the ride-hailing company. Then a video surfaced showing Kalanick berating an Uber driver, which prompted him to publicly apologize and openly acknowledge that he needs “leadership help.” Finally, Uber has faced a mass exodus of some key executives— the CFO, COO, CMO, general counsel, and head of engineering roles still need to be filled.

Additionally, Uber is expected to release the findings from a workplace investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sometime this month. Holder and his team have been conducting months of employee interviews, further looking the allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company.

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Working with Uber’s chief while helping change the workplace culture is a big task, but Frei seems optimistic.

“I have spent a lot of time with [Kalanick] and he has said he wants help and is willing to take it from a leadership team,” Frei told Recode. “We will not win with a silo-maker CEO and he very readily said, ‘I don't have all the answers and I need help.’”

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