Commentary

Travis Kalanick 2.0 Launches Today

Jun 21, 2017

Travis Kalanick, the bad boy genius behind Uber, has resigned as CEO. The New York Times broke the story, citing a letter from five of the company’s biggest investors—Benchmark, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Menlo Ventures, and Fidelity Investments— delivered to Kalanick, demanding that he resign immediately. Kalanick will remain on Uber’s board, but it’s a difficult way to end his run: According to the Times, the letter was titled “Moving Uber Forward.” The influential and tolerant investors who bid up the company to a $70 billion valuation have finally spoken.

It’s hard to know what to make of the suddenness of the move, though things have clearly escalated of late. After reviewing this timeline of controversies at the company, it’s hard to believe that any executive could have survived this long. Uber has weathered nine scandals – and that's just this year! The list includes a blog post detailing a culture of sexual harassment at the company written by a former engineer, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into a software tool that allowed Uber to evade law enforcement in places where the service wasn’t approved, and the dismissal of an executive who illegally obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India.

But as my colleague Geoff Smith suggests in his must-read take on the matter, this kind of “seismic shareholder revolt” feels like it might be about something else. “Uber’s investors have been well aware of Kalanick’s vision and his management style from the start, after all, even if they underestimated the whirlwind of negative publicity that they could generate,” he says in today’s CEO Daily. “But it’s hard to avoid a suspicion that Uber’s business model is simply not living up to its initial hype.”

This is what’s hard to parse. If, in fact, that the only reason Kalanick was removed was because of Uber's declining business model, merely complicated by the exposure of otherwise acceptably repugnant behavior, then perhaps no lessons will be learned. Uber board member Ariana Huffington, for example, argued persuasively for Travis 2.0 to return, tanned, rested and ready. (Not everyone shared this opinion: “It simply ignores how radioactive Kalanick has become and how much his deeply influential presence continues the contamination,” Recode’s Kara Swisher said.)

Regardless of the motivations behind his removal, Kalanick, who was rocked by the loss of his mother in a recent boating accident, now gets to have the redemption he needs, if not the one he planned. For that, I wish him well. The company is in the process of bringing on new employees, including some exciting fresh hires. But it has serious work to do in separating itself from the culture that allowed it to go down so many ethical wormholes. I asked my colleague Adam Lashinsky, author of Wild Ride: Inside Uber’s Quest for World Domination, what he thought. His book makes it clear that Kalanick was always the company’s greatest strength and its biggest problem. For the first time, the company’s future is no longer tethered its bad boy founder.

“I think the company can change. It’s full of people who’d like to be part of a company with a purpose and that succeeds,” Lashinsky told me. “The opportunity for the next CEO to put her or his imprint on the culture will be considerable.”

For his part, Kalanick now recognizes that Uber 2.0 doesn’t depend on him. “He has now acknowledged that in fact, his transformation is not essential to the success of the company going forward," Lashinsky said.

For a man who was once the poster child for outsized success, that may be the hardest work of all.

On Point

Square releases their first-ever diversity report

While their numbers for the tech sector disappoint in the usual way –56.6% of technical roles are held by white people, and 34.4% are held by Asian employees, etc, there are two things that are worth noting. First is the refreshing scope of the related commentary. Square talks about their recruiting efforts, (while calling bullshit on the “pipeline” problem), and shares an analysis of employee self-identification data. “Our goal in releasing this report is to contribute to a conversation about inclusion and diversity that goes beyond metrics,” they say. They’ve also included sample questions from their survey which includes questions about concepts like fairness, belonging, and voice, “enabling us to evaluate how different demographics—including intersectional identities—feel about life at Square.” Finally, they report an upward trend in all categories, which is good news.

Square

The wrongful death suit in the Michael Brown case is settled in secret

The order signed by U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber’s said only this about the settlement: That it was “fair and reasonable compensation for this wrongful death claim and is in the best interests of each Plaintiff,” and the split between Brown’s two parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lezley McSpadden, “provides for a reasonable amount” of attorney’s fees and expenses. The move is unusual under Missouri law, which typically allows the records of settlements with public entities to remain open. But in this case, “disclosure of the terms of the settlement agreement could jeopardize the safety of individuals involved in this matter, whether as witnesses, parties, or investigators,” said Webber. It might not be a bad idea; if you’ve got the stomach, check out the comments on this story.

St Louis Today

Where are the roles for Hispanics on television?

Really, where? Writer Matt Brennan expertly channels the rising alarm expressed by Latinx performers and screenwriters, along with data from experts and advocacy groups. “To hear the frustration of those going out for auditions, scraping together money for short films, or shopping pilots to the broadcast networks is to remember that the series changing the face of Latinos on TV—including Netflix’s One Day at a Time, NBC’s Superstore, and The CW’s Jane the Virgin, among others—remain the exception, not the rule,” he writes. Brennan’s extensively reported piece includes pretty much every Latinx actor you can name, and that’s part of the problem. There's little available but stereotypes and spicy best friend roles. “I’m not kidding you when I tell you that I’ll go for stereotypical roles, and I’ll literally see everyone from my cast there,” says Jackie Cruz from Orange is the New Black. They're all tired of playing gang members, gardeners, girlfriends or maids. Says fellow cast member Dascha Polanco, “I want to play with dragons. I want to play in Marvel. I want to play a superhero.”

Paste Magazine

A change to make the rainbow flag more inclusive is making some people angry

The city of Philadelphia added two colors to the now iconic rainbow flag to fly outside of City Hall for Pride Month. Those colors, black and brown, were supposed to represent inclusion for people of color in the LGBTQ community. The new flag, created by the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs’ as part of their new More Color More Pride campaign, caused mild dismay among friends of the original flag’s creator, artist Gilbert Baker, though the good intentions behind the move were acknowledged. But after calls for an addition of a white stripe -  and other less savory suggestions -  an upsetting national race-based online shouting match began. But what may be getting lost in the debate over the flag is what’s happening in Philadelphia. The city has a long history of racial tension and discrimination, with a recent series of problems occuring in bars in their LGBTQ district, the Gayborhood.

Vox

Law enforcement: The murder of a Muslim teen was most likely road rage

It is the brutal capper to an even more brutal crime. As a group of teens returned to their local mosque in the early hours of a Sunday morning, they were confronted by a driver on a busy road, who ultimately chased them with his car, striking 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen with a bat, and then abducting her in his car. After a second assault, her body was found in a pond next to his apartment complex. Anguished and angry posts on social media feared it was hate crime similar to those targeting Muslims, but the police now believe it may been road rage. “There was no indication of any racial slurs or any back-and-forth other than a verbal argument,” says the Fairfax County police.

Washington Post

The Woke Leader

The oldest library on earth was started by a Muslim woman

And soon we can all visit! Fatima Al-Fihri, a woman who became wealthy when she inherited her merchant father’s fortune, oversaw the construction of the mosque/university complex at the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, which opened in 859. She was, by all accounts an extraordinary woman, and the University has been a leading light in the Muslim world ever since. (There’s a short French-language documentary about her life here.) The library has been restored over the last three years by another woman, Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni, and houses a collection of 4,000 rare books and ancient manuscripts, including a rare 9th-century version of the Quran. While the university has moved to another part of Fez, the library and the mosque remain at the original location. A portion of the library will be open to the public later this year.

Quartz

How FBI surveillance files became art

Artists not yet born will be tasked with transforming the current FBI probe into Trump cronies into visual treasures. But it fell to artist Sadie Barnette to turn some 500 pages of surveillance material gathered on her father, the ex-Black Panther Party member Rodney Barnette, into an exhibit and an experience. Click through to see photos from her Do Not Destroy exhibit which she mounted earlier this year. Barnette’s father founded the Compton chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968 after returning from the Vietnam War, brutalized by the experience and further traumatized by police brutality that was rampant in his community. Legally detained without due process and surveilled, the senior Barnette finally got access to his own records after a four year FOIA tussle. “In a way, it was so fascinating reading about all of this history of my dad and our family,” says the artist. “But it was also very scary to know that you are reading this information because people followed my dad and interrogated our family, simply because he was viewed as an extremist through his community organizing with the Black Panthers.” Spoiler alert: She bedazzles some of the documents. It works.

Vice

RIP Prodigy

The news came, as it does these days, on Instagram. According to Nas’s post, Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, half of the seminal 1990’s rap group Mobb Deep, died at 42, becoming yet another beloved rap figure to die before age 50. The cause may be related to his recent hospitalization for sickle cell anemia, a disease the artist had been public about. The Undefeated’s Clinton Yates gives Prodigy a proper send-off, perfect for grieving fans or those who simply want to better understand why some folks are sad today. “Ever since he burst onto the scene with the head-cracking anthem “Shook Ones (Part II)” in 1995, captivating a generation of fans looking for a hardcore East Coast aesthetic that accurately portrayed the absurd and pointless violence of the streets, he was an instant legend,” he says. More tributes here.

The Undefeated

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