Uber offered up a rare conference call for the news media Tuesday with just a few hours notice ahem, SFist was not invited in which board member Arianna Huffington tried to make the case that everyone there is still behind CEO Travis Kalanick and everything will be just fine once they hire a COO to help him. As the New York Times reports, Huffington said during the 45-minute call, "The board is confident in Travis, and we are proceeding ahead with the search for the COO. Put very simply, change starts at the top.”
Along with two other highly placed women at the company, recently hired human resources head Liane Hornsey and Rachel Holt, who heads up Uber’s ride-hailing business in the US and Canada, Huffington laid out a multi-part plan for putting the company back on track after a tumultuous two months of terrible press and internal shakeups.
Kalanick was not on the call, and Hornsey glossed over that by saying, "We wanted to have the people responsible for making things happen on the call."
Huffington further made the statement of confidence about Kalanick that "the whole ride-sharing industry would not be where it is today without Travis," and she said "I have seen, personally, Travis' evolution."
But as CNet notes, Hornsey stepped in to suggest that company would no longer allow Kalanick's freewheeling style to go unchecked, and would soon be releasing its first diversity report.
"Uber is disruptive and disruption demands the confidence to be bold," Hornsey said during the call. "What I have seen though, is that this has translated internally to what I would call a cult of the individual. We now need to expend genuine effort ensuring the individual is never more important than the team not ever."
The choice to have just the three women on the call was a calculated one, as VentureBeat points out, perhaps to "send a strong message to the female rank and file at Uber" that the company would no longer be a harassment-filled boys' club.
Recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment from a former employee seem to have directly precipitated the departure of company president Jeff Jones, which he announced Monday. The scandal also led to the firing of vice president of engineering Amit Singhal in February, after it was suggested that he had departed a previous job at Google amid sexual harassment allegations.
Then there were the added troubles posed by the #DeleteUber campaign that erupted amid an immigration-related taxi strike in New York City, and the leaked video of Kalanick berating a driver who was trying to express frustration with the way the company treats its drivers.
Still, Holt said during her portion of the call that business remained very strong, and post-#DeleteUber, the company had its biggest week to date in terms of US trips taken last week. Also, "In our most mature country, we’ve grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016. [And] Looking at less mature regions like Latin America, trips were up 600 percent in February, year on year," Holt said, per the Times.
You can read the complete prepared remarks by the three women here, on Uber's blog.