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Reuters/Mike Blake
In a huff.
CULTURE CLUB

Uber’s culture problems stem from “worship at the altar of hyper growth”

By Lianna Brinded

Uber is heading in new direction.

It has a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, charged with cleaning up a raft of culture problems. It is also about to seal a billion-dollar investment deal with Japanese tech giant SoftBank.

“We expect to have an announcement pretty soon… very likely in the next week,” said Arianna Huffington, one of Uber’s most prominent board members, the WSJ D.LIVE conference near Los Angeles yesterday (Oct. 16). “We are waiting at the moment on what is going to transpire in terms of the price,” she said (paywall).

SoftBank is set to inject $1.25 billion in Uber at a valuation approaching $70 billion. Uber’s board voted unanimously to approve the investment earlier this month, but some existing investors have haggled over the price and conditions.

However the deal shapes up, everyone involved with Uber is keen to see how Khosrowshahi is going to repair the tech company’s reputation after a slew of scandals under founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick.

Kalanick embodied the archetypal “tech bro” image. He was infamously caught on camera berating a driver, he called Uber “Boob-er,” and his old tweets include comments like,”First couple making out in my uberX… #ceoUberXing.” Then, a bombshell revelation from a former Uber engineer revealed routine sexual harassment she faced at the company. At a staff meeting called to address sexism at Uber, a board member made a sexist remark; he resigned shortly thereafter, apologizing for his “careless, inappropriate, and inexcusable” comment.

On stage, Huffington diagnosed the cause of Uber’s toxic culture:

Travis is obviously brilliant. The problem was this worship at the altar of hyper growth, which means you forget to build the culture. Culture, we are now recognizing, is the immune system of a company… We are recognizing that what happens in the culture is contributing to the bottom line.

Huffington’s comments may give Kalanick a pass—the ousted founder still wields power at the company, as demonstrated last month when he appointed new board members without consulting other directors. Her remarks also suggest that Khosrowshahi’s focus will remain on repairing the company’s culture rather than rapid expansion once the new investment comes in.