Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking a break from running the company

Ready for a break.
Ready for a break.
Image: Reuters/Danny Moloshok
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Embattled Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will take a leave of absence.

In a company-wide email (read in full below), Kalanick said he is taking time off to grieve for his mother, who was killed in a boating accident in late May. His father was seriously injured in the accident. Kalanick did not say when he would return. Uber did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kalanick’s leave could give Uber the chance it desperately needs to hit the reset button. The ride-hailing company has been roiled by scandal this year and has developed a reputation for a toxic corporate culture. Many hold Kalanick directly responsible. Uber’s CEO is known for his hard-charging, ends-justify-the-means approach to doing business.

Before this year those tactics included sabotaging competitorsmisleading drivers about earnings; and strong-arming regulators and politicians. So far in 2017, Uber has been caught sabotaging more competitors; evading law enforcement; and passing around the medical records of a rape victim in India. Kalanick in February was filmed berating an Uber driver who complained about lower rates.

Uber’s board met June 11 to discuss the results of an investigation into the company’s culture conducted by former US attorney general Eric Holder. The board voted unanimously to adopt all recommendations from the Holder report, which included cutting ties with chief business officer and trusted Kalanick advisor Emil Michael, who announced his departure yesterday. The findings and recommendations of the report are being shared with employees at an all-hands meeting today.

As of June 12, Kalanick was still weighing whether to take a leave of absence. Tech news site The Information reported that he told board directors a leave could be problematic, considering how many other executive slots are vacant at Uber.

Kalanick acknowledged that he needed leadership help after his filmed outburst against the Uber driver. “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick wrote in a blog post. He’s protected in his position as chief executive by his share-based voting power.

Uber said last week that it had hired Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor, to report directly to Kalanick and “work as a partner” with chief human resources officer Liane Hornsey.

Among other things, Frei is charged with helping Uber reorder its executive ranks. She appears to be having an influence already. Frei told Recode last week that she hoped to have more independent members added to Uber’s board. On June 12, the company announced that Wan Ling Martello, an executive vice president at Nestle, would join the board.

Here’s Kalanick’s full email:

For the last eight years my life has always been about Uber. Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.

The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.

During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company. I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly.

It’s hard to put a timeline on this – it may be shorter or longer than we might expect. Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes. The incredible outpouring of heartfelt notes and condolences from all of you have kept me strong but almost universally they have ended with ‘How can I help?’. My answer is simple. Do your life’s work in service to our mission. That gives me time with family. Put people first, that is my mom’s legacy. And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great.

See you soon,