Taxi replacement service and den of iniquity Uber is in hot water this week following BuzzFeed's revelation Monday night that a top executive suggested smearing journalists who criticized the company, including high-profile Silicon Valley reporter Sarah Lacy. Instead of firing that executive, however, Uber's CEO blasted out a series of tweets that answered no questions, suggested no improvements to Uber's corporate culture, and offered no evidence that Uber had learned its lesson.
1/ Emil's comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company.— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
2/ His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
3/ His duties here at Uber do not involve communications strategy or plans and are not representative in any way of the company approach— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
4/ Instead, we should lead by inspiring our riders, our drivers and the public at large.— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
5/ We should tell the stories of progress and appeal to people’s hearts and minds— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
6/ We must be open and vulnerable enough to show people the positive principles that are the core of Uber’s culture— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
7/ We must tell the stories of progress Uber has brought to cities and show the our constituents that we are principled and mean well— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
8/ The burden is on us to show that, and until Emil’s comments we felt we were making positive steps along those lines— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
9/ But I will personally commit to our riders, partners and the public that we are up to the challenge— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
10/ We are up to the challenge to show that Uber is and will continue to be a positive member of the community— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
11/ And furthermore, I will do everything in my power towards the goal of earning that trust.— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
12/ I believe that folks who make mistakes can learn from them – myself included.— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
13/ and that also goes for Emil ..— travis kalanick (@travisk) November 18, 2014
Kalanick's rationale for not firing Michael, who has already trotted out the standardpatheticapology, is that he thinks Michael is capable of learning from his mistake. It's hard to reconcile this conclusion with his second tweet, which said that the mistake was evidence of "a lack of humanity."
A quick review of Kalanick's own conduct suggests that he may be more interested in retaining a top executive than ameliorating the concerns of journalists like Lacy. A March 2014 GQ feature about Uber contains this lovely sentence:
When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: “Yeah, we call that Boob-er.”
That Kalanick lives in a bro bubble is apparent from the fact that, according to San Francisco magazine, he is "repeatedly, and not necessarily unkindly, described by friends and colleagues as 'douchey.'" Only someone to whom "douchey" is a term of endearment could think that Michael is worth keeping around, or that today's tweetstorm is an appropriate response to his misconduct.
As an interesting and revealing addendum to the San Francisco nugget, the author of that story also revealed the following:
While I was reporting my recent cover story on Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick, several current and former Uber employees warned me that company higher-ups might access my rider logs.
Twitter, needless to say, was not impressed with Kalanick's generic apology.
"It's alright, the guy who suggested digging up dirt on journalists' private lives doesn't actually have that portfolio at our company"— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) November 18, 2014
Has a tweetstorm ever been the most effective response to a crisis? Why not just a tweet linking to a full statement?— Colin Campbell (@BKcolin) November 18, 2014
"Hey how do we handle this PR disaster?" "I dunno. Tweet some stuff, I guess." "Yeah. Whatever. Nothing matters."— Simon Maloy (@SimonMaloy) November 18, 2014
Is Uber convinced Emil Michael is so essential to business they can't fire him, or that bad PR doesn't matter?— Josh Barro (@jbarro) November 18, 2014
Uber, but for crisis management.— Peter Sagal (@petersagal) November 18, 2014
@FutureBoy Uber has Binders Full of Women Journalists— Matthew Hoffman (@LetUsSuppose) November 18, 2014
12/ Sorry, got distracted. Now, where was I. Ah yes. He’s not fired.— Jay Yarow (@jyarow) November 18, 2014
Usually, if you characterize your employee as having "a lack of humanity," you don't retain them. But ¯\_(ツ)_/¯— Josh Barro (@jbarro) November 18, 2014
Man With Avatar of Alexander Hamilton Shoots Self in Foot— Chris Taylor (@FutureBoy) November 18, 2014
Somehow when I read Uber's apology all I see is a reminder the company still has my personal data. And an executive who lacks 'humanity.'— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) November 18, 2014
And just in case you thought this wasn't a corporate culture problem:
Uber NYC GM quickly deleted this pic.twitter.com/IFkcSCKMqs— Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) November 18, 2014
Illustration by Jason Reed