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Immelt Backs Out of Chaotic Uber CEO Search

August 27, 2017, 3:50 PM UTC

Uber made it easy to catch a ride, but the company sure can’t catch a break.

Outgoing GE CEO Jeff Immelt, considered a frontrunner to replace founder Travis Kalanick as CEO, announced on Twitter this morning that he will no longer seek the position.

Uber’s board of directors was expected to vote on a new CEO for the stumbling giant today, and Immelt was the favorite as recently as last night. But a report from Recode’s Kara Swisher also suggested that the board was courting a prospect who has already rebuffed them – Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman.

Whitman, according to Recode, has been the preferred choice of Benchmark Capital. The venture capital fund has in recent weeks been trying to wrest power from founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick retains his own board seat, and Benchmark claims he also sought to improperly stack the board with loyalists on his way out of the top job.

Swisher’s reporting seems to uphold Benchmark’s claims that Kalanick is undermining the CEO search process. Kalanick apparently preferred Immelt to succeed him, but others – specifically, Benchmark – saw Immelt as too accommodating to Kalanick, who reportedly has said he wants to retain influence and eventually return to the CEO role.

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That could have continued the culture and PR issues that have bedeviled Uber for the better part of a year now, potentially threatening an eventual IPO. To try and cut off Kalanick, Swisher says Benchmark and others have been aggressively courting Whitman, despite her past declarations that she wasn’t interested in the job. Enticements include revamping the makeup of the board itself, which one source close to Whitman said “needs a massive overhaul.”

But the big roadblock to Whitman accepting any offer has been Kalanick himself, whose hard-driving style both grew his brainchild into a colossus, and left it with core weaknesses. One source told Swisher that Whitman is unlikely to accept the CEO job with Kalanick still involved, and he’s unlikely to entirely cede power.

Immelt’s surprise announcement reshuffles the deck, though. It may mean Whitman will get what she wants, or it may indicate the board is going an entirely different direction – at least one still-unknown candidate is also in the running.

A better chance for Whitman, though, is good news for Uber investors. While Immelt would have brought stable leadership, Whitman has a much more solid track record in the tech sector and as an innovator. Her hiring would also send a clearer public message about the company’s response to the litany of sex scandals that have made up a sizable portion of its woes.

The board is expected to announce its decision to employees as soon as mid-week.

Update: This piece has been updated in light of Immelt’s announcement.