Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who built the ride-sharing app into a multi-billion dollar company but has also overseen a series of ethical lapses, is taking an unspecified leave of absence from the company and will assume a diminished role when he returns, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing a note from Kalanick to employees.
Also on Tuesday, the San Francisco company released recommendations from an investigation conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s law firm, Covington & Burling, designed to fix major issues in the company’s culture. As part of those recommendations, Kalanick will take on fewer responsibilities when he returns, and the company will appoint an independent chair to curtail some of his power.
Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler alleged in a Feb. 19 blog post that a former manager propositioned her for sex and was not punished, an allegation that has characterized the startup-turned-transportation behemoth as a place where inappropriate workplace conduct was pervasive.
Uber has shed numerous senior executives in recent months, including former senior vice president of business and longtime Kalanick lieutenant Emil Michael, who left the company on Monday. In 2014, a BuzzFeed reporter heard Michael suggesting at a dinner that the company hire opposition researchers to gather dirt on journalists critical of the company, calling out by name tech journalist Sarah Lacy. And last week, Uber fired former President of Business in Asia Pacific Eric Alexander in the wake of reports that he had obtained the medical records of a female passenger who was raped in India in 2014. Alexander showed the records to Kalanick, but Michael did not see the file, according to the Axios report.
Kalanick has also faced recent personal turmoil, as his mother was killed and father badly injured in a May boating accident in central California. The exec attributed some of his absence to the need to “grieve [his] mother.”
“This morning, employees were presented the recommendations from Covington & Burling that were unanimously approved by the Board on Sunday,” Uber Chief Human Resources Officer Liane Hornsey said in a statement posted on Uber’s newsroom website. “Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. While change does not happen overnight, we’re committed to rebuilding trust with our employees, riders and drivers.”
Here’s Kalanick’s full note to employees:
For the last eight years my life has always been about Uber. Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team. The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve. During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company. I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly. It’s hard to put a timeline on this – it may be shorter or longer than we might expect. Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes. The incredible outpouring of heartfelt notes and condolences from all of you have kept me strong but almost universally they have ended with ‘How can I help?’. My answer is simple. Do your life’s work in service to our mission. That gives me time with family. Put people first, that is my mom’s legacy. And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great.
See you soon, Travis.