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Uber’s CEO said he must “change as a leader” after a video showed him berating a driver

Uber Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Travis Kalanick works with fourth graders during Cooking Matters, a nutrition class taught by 18 Reasons, a local partner of Share our Strength at Glen Park Elementary School in San Francisco, California
Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
  • Josh Horwitz
By Josh Horwitz

Asia Correspondent

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

On Feb. 28, Bloomberg published a video showing Uber CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver, Fawzi Kamel, who complained to him about declining fares.

The clip portrays Kalanick as the ruthless, unsympathetic leader that many outside of the company have long suspected him to be. Before exiting the vehicle, Kalanick says to Kamel, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” (Start at the 5:45 mark in the clip below.)

Following an immediate uproar, Kalanick published a statement on the company’s blog saying he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” The post, which he also sent out to Uber employees, reads:

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.

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. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.

I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.

Uber has suffered several PR crises in recent weeks. Fervor erupted in tech communities worldwide when ex-employee Susan Fowler published a lengthy blogpost alleging that the company did nothing to penalize a manager who had sexually harassed several female employees. Fowler’s piece prompted other ex-employees to publish similar accounts, and even led Uber to fire one of its top engineers for failing to disclose allegations of sexual harassment made against him at another company. It also revived accusations that the company suffers from a toxic culture, as evidenced by previous incidents involving misogynistic public statements, threats toward journalists, and a disregard for user privacy.

This, in addition to ongoing concerns about how the company treats its drivers, has led some users to remove Uber from their phones, and encourage others to do the same by spreading the hashtag #deleteUber on social media. The company has also seen a sudden surge of one-star ratings in the iOS App Store.

Does corporate culture begin at the top? Kalanick’s treatment of Kamel certainly suggests that the CEO himself fits right in at a startup that values little more than the bottom line, and receives well-meaning criticism with hostility. Kalanick’s letter marks the first time the CEO has suggested that he personally has enabled a toxic culture at Uber. Whether that alone will change anything at the company remains to be seen.

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