Yesterday my metaphor was chess, with a wink to the grandmaster of tech, Masayoshi Son. Today, the focus is on theater, specifically the dramatic performance besieged Uber presented Tuesday.
Unlike Shakespearean casts of old, the dramatis personae of Uber’s display of public theater was all female. Board member Arianna Huffington, in-the-job-for-a-few-minutes head of human resources Liane Hornsey, and Rachel Holt, head of U.S. and Canada operations and a longtime senior-management culture carrier at Uber, held a hastily arranged news conference to explain how Uber intends to right its corporate ship. Absent from the call were any men, notable in a company with the bro-est of cultures. Its top dude, CEO Travis Kalanick, was frequently mentioned but not there at all.
I call this theater because Uber is out to tell a story of change. In prepared remarks, Huffington said the company wasn’t after more headlines. (Good luck with that.) Instead, she said, Uber wants to explain the “changes” under way at the company. Hornsey discussed how Uber will listen better to its employees. Holt promised Uber would heal wounds with drivers—all while insisting Uber’s business is better than ever.
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Rarely has such a young company traveled from darling to goat to give-us-another-chance supplicant, all very much in the public eye. Just as Masayoshi Son’s very public gamesmanship will be fascinating to watch, Uber’s under-the-spotlight attempt to convince itself, its employees, its drivers (who can push a button and drive for another service any time they like), and the public of its rejuvenation will be a case study in process.
Can Uber do it? Monday night in San Francisco my Uber driver—hopped up on Starbucks after driving in from Sacramento in the rain—told me when the #deleteUber campaign began in late January he hurriedly signed up for Lyft, just in case his Uber business evaporated. Then a curious thing happened. His business with Uber picked up, and now it’s better than ever. His conclusion: the preponderance of his customers value lower wait times over moral purity.
This one is not over.