SAN JOSE, Calif. — The embattled head of Uber stepped down Wednesday, leaving a leadership void at the controversial ride-sharing technology company.
In the midst of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s announcement, the company continues to be dogged by allegations of a hostile work environment rife with sexual harassment.
The move came after tremendous pressure from investors unhappy with the direction of the company, according to multiple published reports.
“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.
Kalanick’s aggressive approach was exemplified by the company’s myriad dust-ups with regulators including the California DMV, various state labor boards and taxi drivers in multiple cities who claimed the company flouted the rules.
The combative company typified Silicon Valley’s startup culture, but Kalanick’s ouster on Wednesday morning also shows the limits of that aggression.
Kalanick is bowing out at a particularly painful moment for him personally, as his mother died in a boating accident in late May.
Kalanick joined the company as CEO in December 2010, about seven months after it launched. He quickly placed it on its path toward ascent, attracting investors such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Jay-Z.
However, goodwill toward Kalanick began to unravel this year, first with the announcement that he would serve President Donald Trump as a business adviser. After weathering backlash from a segment of his customers, Kalanick encountered more controversy after he was caught on video berating an Uber driver who complained about driver compensation.
The big blow came when Susan Fowler, a former engineer with Uber, published a lengthy blog post detailing the company’s culture of rampant sexual harassment and hostility toward women.
Fowler has since left for another Silicon Valley company called Stripe.
In Fowler’s February blog post, she said her boss sexually harassed her, and human resources covered it up because he was a high performer.
She said other women encountered similar issues, and the percentage of female engineers dwindled from 25 percent to less than 3 percent from the day she was hired to the day she turned in her resignation just a little over a year later.
Kalanick attempted damage control by announcing that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would perform an investigation into the company’s work culture.
Earlier this month, Emil Michael, one of the Kalanick’s biggest allies, left the company under a cloud of allegations that he, Kalanick and another Uber executive stole the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India and attempted to use them to discredit her story.
The woman, who remains anonymous, sued Uber, Kalanick and Michael in federal court last week for invasion of privacy, among other claims.
All of which began to make investors squirrely.
One of Uber’s largest investors, a venture capital outfit called Benchmark, began to pressure Kalanick to step aside on Tuesday, according to reports, with other large institutional investors echoing the sentiments.
Kalanick will still retain a significant portion of the company’s shares and will become a billionaire if and when the company goes public. He will also retain his seat on the board.
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