Failed leaders have many things in common. One of those is a tone deafness to the culture and atmosphere they create within their organizations. That seems to be a major fault of Travis Kalanick, the recently resigned CEO of Uber, who was forced out by his investors in part because of the sexist, bro culture he created that was publicly revealed in graphic detail via a February blog post by a former female engineer.
So it is telling that Marissa Mayer, the CEO who failed to fix Yahoo, has stepped out to defend Kalanick, telling attendees of a conference at Stanford Law School June 27 that the Uber founder probably didn’t know about the toxic culture he created. Mayer was not only forced to sell Yahoo after failing to create a winning strategy, she also had to cut the agreed sales price to Verizon after it was revealed that under her watch two major hacks of user data occurred, one in 2013, and a second in 2014 that affected at least 500 million customer accounts.
“I count Travis as one of my friends. I think he’s a phenomenal leader,” Mayer told attendees of Stanford’s Directors’ College, billed as a forum to inform boards about how to handle crisis, activists, CEO pay, and other pressing issues during the $8,950, two-day affair (pdf). “I just don’t think he knew. When your company scales that quickly, it’s hard.”
Travis didn’t know? It beggars belief. This is the guy who in 2013 sent an email to staff attending a company meeting in Miami advising them how to properly have sex with one another. And warned them against puking on the premises, throwing beer kegs off tall buildings, talking to the press, and getting thrown in jail. As if any of those things were activities a CEO needed to warn his employees about at a company event. Moreover, Kalanick was the one behind Uber’s massive drive to scale.
Every great leader knows that his or her own actions and words resonate loudly with the troops below. If the CEO is a jerk, chances are his company will be full of jerks. If the top person cuts corners, his minions will think that’s OK as well. That’s pretty much what happened at Uber. That Mayer isn’t able to see this is an indictment of her own poor leadership qualities.
She has been rumored as a possible successor to Kalanick at Uber. After leaving Google after a turf battle, and trying to lead Yahoo, the 42-year-old may be looking for a new job following the June 13 closing of the $4.5 billion Verizon deal.
Please, Uber, don’t hire her.