A timeline of events that led to the downfall of Travis Kalanick at Uber

Image: Reuters/Shu Zhang
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Uber’s 40-year-old chief executive Travis Kalanick has resigned from the ride-sharing company.

On June 20, the New York Times reported that Kalanick, who helped found the company in 2009, resigned after five of Uber’s major investors sought his removal. Kalanick will reportedly stay on as a director on Uber’s board.

“I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick said in a statement.

In recent months, the $70 billion company has been bogged down by some serious allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and a toxic work environment. The growing anger toward the company had also spurred an exodus of top executives over the past six months. Kalanick, too, has come under severe pressure, particularly for the way he has handled the allegations.

Here is a timeline of how things unfolded at Uber:

Feb. 19: Susan Fowler’s blog post

Uber’s unraveling began when Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, wrote in length about her year at the company. In it, she detailed allegations about sexual harassment by her manager and the HR department’s reluctance to take any action. The story, published on her personal blog on Feb. 19, highlighted the rampant misogyny at Uber and a culture hostile towards women.

Soon after the blog was published, Kalanick ordered an “urgent investigation” into the matter and issued the following statement:

I have just read Susan Fowler’s blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It’s the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behaviour at Uber—and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.

Feb. 20: Uber taps Eric Holder

A day after, Uber hired former US attorney general Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, both partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to probe the claims. The company also appointed board member Arianna Huffington, Liane Hornsey, and Uber’s associate general counsel Angela Padilla to assist the investigations.

Feb. 28: A senior executive leaves

A week later, Uber asked Amit Singhal, a senior executive, to leave the company for failing to disclose a sexual harassment allegation during his time at Google. 

March 1: Travis’s on-cam meltdown

The embattled ride-hailing company was jolted by another controversy when Kalanick was caught swearing at an Uber driver over the company’s treatment of drivers. Recorded on a dash cam, Kalanick was seen arguing with Fawzi Kamel, who blamed the CEO for his financial loss. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” Kalanick said as he left the cab. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” Soon after the video went viral, Kalanick apologized in an email to his employees.

March 24: The escort-bar incident comes to light

 The Information reported that five employees (paywall) at Uber, including Kalanick, had visited a karaoke bar in Seoul known for offering escort services during a trip to South Korea three years ago. The report also mentioned that a female employee, who was with the group, complained to human resources about the incident.

June 6: Uber fires 20 employees

Uber fired 20 of its employees after an investigation into its workplace culture by law firm Perkins Coie, which Uber hired to look into claims of harassment, discrimination, bullying, and other employee concerns.

Perkins Coie had investigated 215 staff complaints going as far back as 2012, and took action in 58 cases and no action on 100 more. Of the 215 claims, Uber said 54 were related to discrimination, 47 to sexual harassment, 45 to unprofessional behavior, and 33 to bullying.

The company also hired Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei to train all its managers.

June 7: Uber fires an exec for his role in a rape investigation

Soon after reports emerged that Uber had sacked 20 employees, Recode reported that the company also let go of Eric Alexander, Uber’s president of business in Asia, for mishandling a 2014 rape investigation in India. Suspecting the story was planted by rival Ola, Alexander had reportedly obtained the medical records of the alleged victim, a 27-year-old woman, and had shown them to Kalanick and senior vice president Emil Michael.

June 12: Travis’s No. 2 leaves

Michael, Uber’s most scandal-ridden executive and Kalanick’s confidante, leaves the company. Michael’s departure is part of the top-level exodus at Uber. Since February, Uber had lost its president and marketing chief Jeff Jones, finance chief Gautam Gupta, and senior vice president of engineering Amit Singhal.

Michael gained notoriety in 2014 when he suggested at a private dinner in New York that Uber dig up dirt on critical journalists. He was also implicated in the escort-karaoke bar scandal in Seoul.

June 13: Eric Holder’s report is out

Uber released a 13-page report by Eric Holder two days after the company decided to adopt all his recommendations, which included limiting the alcohol budget, developing clear guidance on workplace relationships, and effectively handling complaints.

June 14: Travis takes an indefinite leave of absence

In a company-wide email, Kalanick said he was taking time off to grieve his mother, who was killed in a boating accident in late May. Kalanick did not say when he would return, leaving the company’s day-to-day operations to be run by a 14-member committee of senior executives.

The same day, venture capitalist David Bonderman resigned from Uber’s board of directors after apologizing for making a sexist remark during an all-staff meeting. He interrupted Ariana Huffington during a speech, in which she announced that the board’s ratio of women had increased from 14% to 25%, with a joke: “Actually what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”

June 20: Uber’s “180 days of change”

Uber announces “180 days of change,” a campaign aimed at reshaping the embattled company’s image. The new initiatives include adding an option to tip drivers and driver-injury protection insurance, among others.

June 21: Travis steps down

He resigns at the behest of five investors.