Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s Spectacular Flameout
Travis Kalanick’s wild ride is over.
I woke up this morning in Cannes, France to the news that Kalanick had resigned. Like a heavyweight boxer whose momentum had turned, Kalanick has taken punch after punch this year, from the outrage in January over his association with Donald Trump, to the widely-viewed video of his berating an Uber driver, to the explosive blog post by an ex-employee alleging systemic sexual discrimination at Uber, to Google’s (GOOGL) charges of theft of its self-driving car technology.
I thought Kalanick’s leave of absence, announced just last week, was a weak half measure. It was a way to appease the gods of outrage without really giving up power or influence. He didn’t say when he’d be back; he implied he’d keep watch on the most important issues at Uber.
Now, under pressure from investors, Kalanick has completed the task. By resigning, he’s giving his company an opportunity to move forward. Two areas in particular might benefit from Kalanick’s exit, keeping in mind he hasn’t resigned from the Uber board nor given up his influential voting shares of the company’s stock.
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First, his removal will make it immeasurably easier to recruit a new leader. The company had been looking for a chief operating officer, an awkward proposition at best given the uncertainty over Kalanick’s status. Now, this still-global company with widespread customer acceptance and billions in the bank can recruit a CEO and offer her or him total control.
Second, to the extent that Uber’s legal problems worsen, and to the extent they focus on Kalanick’s personal role, including in recruiting an ex-Google engineer to head autonomous vehicle development, some of that legal heat can be focused on Kalanick, rather than Uber.
Kalanick’s spectacular flameout is one for the ages. His stubborn persistence and vision made Uber what it is. Flying in the face of convention was an asset, but ultimately a horrible liability. The way forward for Uber is unclear. But now it doesn’t include Travis Kalanick.
Given the news, I’ll save for tomorrow my additional reports from Cannes, where I’m attending the International Festival of Creativity. But I’ll leave you with one thought. At a small dinner last night hosted by the Alphabet/Google unit Jigsaw, the conversation turned, as it does so frequently when the subject of great companies arises, to Apple. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an elegant and comprehensive review of the rise of Apple (AAPL) in the decade since the iPhone launched, complete with a fascinating chart plotting the iPhone’s success with that of other great products.
Travis Kalanick shares certain traits with Steve Jobs, including a fierce rule-breaking streak. But the comparisons are thin and of limited value. Jobs built one of the best companies the world has ever seen. Kalanick hasn’t.