Uber’s most scandal-ridden exec is out—and it’s not Travis Kalanick

It’s been a bad year.
It’s been a bad year.
Image: Reuters/Shu Zhang
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The name most commonly associated with Uber scandals is the ride-hailing company’s CEO Travis Kalanick. But review the records and another Uber executive—senior vice president of business Emil Michael—has also been there for nearly all of them.

It was Michael who in 2014 sparked public outrage by suggesting at a private dinner in New York that Uber dig up dirt on critical journalists. Michael was implicated this past March in an escort-karaoke bar scandal in Seoul. His name appeared again last week among a small group of executives who obtained, reviewed, and questioned the medical records of a rape victim in India.

Kalanick is protected in his position as chief executive by his share-based voting power. Michael, presumably, was protected by Kalanick. Current and former Uber employees say Michael has retained his role at the company because he is a skilled dealmaker and trusted confidant of the CEO. ”He’s definitely someone who can make shit happen,” a former employee told Quartz. “TK trusts him,” the person added, referring to Kalanick. “And, more likely, TK needs him.”

For Michael, that’s no longer enough. The New York Times reported today that Michael had left the company and would be replaced by David Richter, the current vice president of strategic initiatives.

“I am proud of our business team’s part in contributing to the company’s overall success,” Michael wrote in an email to employees obtained by the Times. “We have fueled our growth by raising more money than any other tech company in history; we completed one of the most valuable mergers in American/Chinese tech history with the Didi deal; and we have secured ground-breaking partnerships with automobile companies all over the world to support our autonomous vehicle efforts.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Michael planned to step down as early as today (June 12) as the result of an investigation into Uber’s workplace culture conducted by former US attorney general Eric Holder. Tech site Recode said Michael was being “pressured” to resign by Uber’s board, which reviewed the Holder report and voted unanimously to adopt all its recommendations on Sunday. The report is set to be shared with Uber’s employees on Tuesday.

According to the Times, the Holder report recommended that Uber cut ties with Michael. Many at Uber were surprised Michael wasn’t dismissed after the karaoke bar scandal came to light earlier this year. “If he isn’t gone, the whole thing is a joke,” an Uber employee told Quartz. Uber didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal also reported June 12 that Uber’s board was weighing a leave of absence for Kalanick, who is facing a personal crisis. His mother died and his father was seriously injured in a boating accident late last month.

Separately, Uber fired 20 employees last week as the result of a wide-ranging investigation into misconduct led by law firm Perkins Coie. Eric Alexander, the Uber executive who obtained the medical records of the rape victim in India, was not among those 20 but was dismissed shortly after the story broke in the media.

Michael joined Uber in 2013 and has been instrumental in the company’s fundraising and global expansion. He struck deals for Uber with Spotify and American Express, and signed the banks that funded Uber’s early car lending program for drivers. He helped Uber strategize in China and hired key executives on the Asia Pacific team (Alexander was one of them). He was closely involved with the financings that took Uber to a nearly $70 billion valuation, including a $3.5 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in June 2016.

Before Uber, Michael was chief operating officer at Klout, a company that rates the online influence of its users. He has maintained a relatively low profile while at Uber, especially after his comments about journalist Sarah Lacy at a private dinner in Manhattan in November 2014 sparked a public outcry. In addition to suggesting Uber hire people to dig up dirt on journalists, Michael suggested that Lacy, a prominent Uber critic who encouraged her readers to delete Uber, should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who took her advice and was then sexually assaulted by a taxi driver.

At the time, Kalanick came to Michael’s defense. “I believe that folks who make mistakes can learn from them—myself included,” he tweeted. “and that also goes for Emil.”

This story was updated to include that Emil Michael has officially left Uber.