Jo Bertram, the woman who built Uber’s business in the U.K., has left the company on the eve of key talks with regulators to save its London operating license.
Bertram announced her move in an email to colleagues Monday, only a day before Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, arrives in London for talks with the city’s Transport Commissioner Mike Brown.
London transportation regulators said last month they would refuse to renew Uber’s license when it expired at the end of September, saying the company was not “fit and proper” to operate in the capital. It accused the company of making inadequate background checks on drivers, selective reporting of criminal incidents to the police, and the illicit use of its ‘Greyball’ software to give regulators a misleading impression of where its cars were, and how many were on the streets.
“Given some of our current challenges, I’m also convinced that now is the right time to have a change of face, and to hand over to someone who will be here for the long haul and take us into the next phase,” Bertram said in her most direct reference to a move that threatens to kill off one of Uber’s biggest overseas revenue streams.
“While I would like to have announced my move in smoother circumstances, I’m proud of the team we’ve built here and am very confident in their abilities to lead the business into the next chapter. I’ll work with you in the coming weeks on the best possible transition,” she added.
Bertram had been quietly withdrawing from her position as the head of Uber’s U.K. business in recent weeks, a regulatory filing revealed just before the transport deparment dropped its bombshell. However, Uber had at the time presented it as a promotion, saying she had been elevated to the role of head of northern Europe, a role that included responsibility for Scandinavia, the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) and the Baltic states. According to Reuters, the company began looking to fill a new position of U.K. chairman six weeks ago.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan had provoked speculation that he would demand the head of Bertram, as a precondition for talks, telling the Evening Standard that “I have seen no evidence that Uber U.K. have recognition of some of the concerns that have been articulated.” By contrast, he had welcomed an open letter in which Khosrowshahi had apologized and promised to run Uber with “humility” and “integrity” in future.
However, an Uber spokesman rejected suggestions that there had been any pressure on Bertram to quit. A transport department spokesman declined to comment, saying only that: “Following an approach from Uber, and at the mayor’s request, London’s Transport Commissioner will meet with Uber’s global CEO tomorrow.”
Over 800,000 people have signed a petition asking transport regulators to reverse their decision, and the company has also received support from Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the suspension “disproportionate.”
By contrast, the left-wing Labour Party, which has surged in popularity this year, has taken the regulators’ side. Labour’s finance spokesman John McDonnell (a man given to quoting China’s communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong in parliament) last week called the company “a disgrace”, telling broacaster ITV that “four months ago, they were told to get their act together and they didn’t.”
Despite the ruckus, the company is continuing to operate normally in London for now. The transport department has said that it can continue to do so while it exercises its right to appeal.