Has Uber’s PR nightmare reached its apex?
The organization’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, recently apologized
after a video of him arguing with an Uber driver was shared online.
described the beginning of the video:
On this particular night in early February—Super Bowl Sunday—Kalanick is
perched in the middle seat, flanked by two female friends. Maroon 5’s
“Don’t Wanna Know” plays, and Kalanick shimmies. He clutches his smartphone
as the three make awkward conversation. The two women ask when his birthday
is, and marvel that he’s a Leo. One of his companions appears to say,
somewhat inaudibly, that she’s heard that Uber is having a hard year.
Kalanick retorts, “I make sure every year is a hard year.” He continues,
“That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s
easy I’m not pushing hard enough.”
The video continues as Kalanick argues with the driver, Fawzi Kamel, about
Uber’s fares. After Kamel tells Kalanick that he lost $97,000 because of
the CEO’s decisions to decrease prices, Kalanick answers:
Bulls**t. You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for
their own s**t. They blame everything in their life on everyone else.
As the video circulates, Twitter users are using the hashtag
to urge others to boycott the ride-hailing service.
Keep your cool in a crisis with these 13 tips.]
The video is just the latest in a string of crises for the organization,
an executive engineer’s resignation
internal investigation over sexism allegations
. . . In a little over a week, the company has been accused of sexist and
discriminatory behavior by a former engineer, Google parent company
Alphabet has sued Uber, alleging Uber stole driverless car technology, and
a top Uber executive was forced to resign for failing to disclose an
allegation of sexual harassment at his previous employer, Google.
Uber is no stranger to controversy.
it paid $20 million to settle a lawsuit
that alleged it exaggerated earnings to recruit drivers.
In the past few years
the organization has received criticism for failing to run background
checks and for an executive’s remarks about investigating journalists.
On Tuesday evening, Kalanick sent a memo to
employees apologizing for his actions. In it, he admitted he needs help
with leadership, and said he must “grow up”:
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
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.
However, the apology didn’t quell critics’ voices—nor does it fix the
issues Uber has with its tarnished reputation.
“The video shows off Kalanick's pugnacious personality and short temper,
which may cause some investors to question whether he has the disposition
to lead a $69 billion company with a footprint that spans the globe,” Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer wrote.
If Uber is serious about fixing its image, changes will have to be made.
Adonis Hoffman wrote in The Hill:
. . . As Uber surrounds itself with a coterie of consultants, advisers,
investors and cheerleaders, it is distant from the voice in the crowd that
whispers, "The emperor has no clothes." Few of these companies want to hear
about, or do, the socioeconomic corporate work that would solidify their
But all is not lost, and Uber is not doomed to the abyss. If the company is
serious about curing its very transparent defects, it should develop an
independent self-regulatory regime, a robust corporate responsibility
program, and a group of external, independent advisers who will be
undaunted by Kalanick's penchant for drowning out voices of dissent.
How would you advise Uber to fix its latest string of bad press, PR Daily readers?