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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2558

Departure of Travis Kalanick: has Uber gone driverless – finally?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The unceremonious departure of Travis Kalanick, the CEO and the co-founder of the Uber, the ride-hailing success story, signifies the plethora of internal squabbles at the world’s most successful start-up almost reaching the critical mass – along the well-trodden path to self-harm.

We have never heard of the heads of new technological start-ups going Gandhian in their quest for global dominance. In this context, Mr Kalanick is no exception.

With an ambition to get what he wants at any cost since his childhood, Mr Kalanick, the university drop-out, along with Garrett Camp developed the cab hiring firm from scratch in 2009. Within a span of 8 years, it became a global phenomenon, while operating in over 500 cities across the world.

Of course, no one underestimated Mr Kalanick’s vision and the enviable drive in creating a very successful start-up. Unfortunately, his achievements started being eclipsed by bad press in recent years – in direct proportion to the success of the firm and its steep market value.

During its meteoric rise in less than a decade, Uber effortlessly made many enemies, notably the long-established, licenced taxi companies, which never felt threatened of their very existence, even during the early transformation years, going from horse-driven mode to running on fossil fuels.

Uber became an instance hit with customers, not because of Mr Kalanick leading the firm. On the contrary, it addressed a significant issue involving human transportation, while stubbornly embedding the needs of a customer to the DNA of the company. That’s why its business model struck a chord with millions of customers worldwide, despite the danger it posed to an equal number of traditional taxi drivers – and their dependents.

As the success of Uber grew, so did the bad press about certain practices at the heart of the company and its perceived macho culture: a series of cases of sexual harassment against female employees, a mass exodus of high-ranking executives in a short period of time, making a loss of millions of dollars despite a boom in investments and accusation by Google affiliated firm of ‘stealing’ its driverless technology, to name, but a few.

Since they started surfacing on Mr Kalanick’s watch, he couldn’t wriggle out of the corporate mud bath by just launching aggressive PR drives or looking for scapegoats. On the contrary, the way he handled a catalogue of potentially damaging disasters implied that the tentacles of chaos actually originated from the sources closer to his inner circle.

In these circumstances, what Mr Kalanick really needed was a shot in the arm; he, however, shot in the foot, instead, when he confronted a Uber driver in public – while giving his detractors the opportunity for everything bad about the company to be personified: prevailing macho culture at the heart of Uber was laid bare; it did not stem from corporate envy, after all, people thought; it appeared to be true for those who watched the video clip.

Despite the initial setbacks, the investors still hoped that Mr Kalanick would be able to weather the storm in due course, as they pin their hopes on the potential of the visionary.

The fact that the company keeps making losses despite the arrival of funds in a steady stream may have finally pushed the influential investors to the wall. The cumulative frustration of the investors finally made Mr Kalanick’s position as the CEO of the company untenable, despite being a co-founder.

His disproportionate focus on the driverless car, despite being accused by Google of ‘stealing’ the technology from one of its subsidiary, may have worried the investors true as well.

While the troubles for him were brewing at the boardroom, he lost his mother in a boat accident; it may have been the last straw as far as Mr Kalanick was concerned; he went on extended leave a few weeks ago, citing personal problems.

Then, on Tuesday, he dropped the ‘bombshell’ on the journalistic minefield of curiosity out of the blue; he announced his departure from the company as its CEO.

Although, the investors may have welcomed his resignation, they may have been worried about the way company would move forward in his absence, deep down in their souls; filling the position of number one from number 2, in technological realm, is easier said than done.

We all know how the death of Steve Jobs and the departure of Bill Gates affected the innovative spark of the respective companies that the duo used to lead.

In this context, those who think that Uber without Mr Kalanick is like Amazon without Jeff Bezos, do not necessarily belong to a minority; because, it simply is the reality; those who question whether Uber is finally driverless, do have a point to make!

- Asian Tribune -

Departure of Travis Kalanick: has Uber gone driverless – finally?
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