‘It’s Unusual’: Uber’s New Leadership VP Frances Frei Acknowledges Executive Vacuum
In a new interview, Uber Vice President of Leadership and Strategy Frances Frei acknowledged that it’s “unusual” for a company as large Uber to have no CEO, CFO, or COO.
“[L]listen,” she told NPR in an interview that aired Monday. “It’s why everyone is working so diligently to [fill the vacancies]. The cascading of events has been quite unusual.”
Frei joined Uber, in part, to help fix the mess. The management academic left Harvard Business School for Uber in June to take on the broad charge of training managers and top executives, assisting with recruitment, and improving a company culture that was reportedly sexist and hostile. At the time, Uber had already seen an exodus of executives, but the leadership shortage became all the more acute when CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down several weeks later.
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Frei did not divulge any new information about Uber’s CEO hunt—though ReCode reported on Sunday that former GE chief executive Jeff Immelt is the frontrunner—but she did touch on the future of Kalanick, who is being sued by Uber investor Benchmark for interfering with company operations since leaving his job. (Kalanick denies the allegations.)
Whether Kalanick has a future at Uber, Frei said, is “entirely his decision.”
“You know, he had stepped down before… to take some personal time. I believe he still needs that. And I think the company needs to move forward with a new CEO,” she said.
Perhaps nearly as pressing as Uber’s CEO search, is the company’s need to overhaul its culture, which former engineer Susan Fowler highlighted as sexist in a blog post in February.
Frei said the company has started addressing the concerns raised by Fowler but is “by no means done” fixing the problems. At the same time, Frei pointed to cultural change as a natural step in a company’s lifespan.
“[I]f you look at all great companies, no chance they have the same culture that they had…in a previous growth period or a previous regulatory environment,” she said. “The beautiful thing about culture is it’s a living, breathing organism. So of course a company needs a different culture at 15,000 people than it does at 3,000 people. Now, what I would say is we did not give enough attention as we were growing to things like culture. It is now on everyone’s mind.”
Frei said Uber’s “hypergrowth” gives its corporate crisis a “novel context,” but she argues that the challenges it faces are common.
“[E]very single one, I had seen at another organization,” she said, adding. “And I’d seen another organization overcome it.”