Uber’s Next COO…and CEO

Who will Uber’s next COO be? That is the question on the minds of many executives, employees and potential shareholders.

If the speculation is anywhere near true, I am not confident that the search team is thinking about this with the right lens. In the last 12 to 18 months, Uber has had a bumpy road with #DeleteUber, serious reports of sexual harassment, and challenges to its attempts at a viable self-driving vehicle. The departure of Uber President Jeff Jones is uniquely timed, given the statement Travis Kalanick made following a heated exchange with an Uber driver that was caught on video:

“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.” — Travis Kalanick

Thus far, reports have pointed to former Disney COO Thomas Staggs, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and Turner CEO John Martin. Aside from the lack of diversity in the first round of publicized contenders, one look at these search candidates prove that Uber is missing a critical point about the opportunity presented for the company.

Bringing in a new COO can and should be a move that improves Uber’s business outlook AND its reputation.

Unless the executives responsible for this search realize that they are undergoing a crisis of confidence, they risk losing it all — right down to a strong IPO.

The numbers don’t lie and the current media landscape is unforgiving. Why? Because Kalanick’s ability to right the ship from a financial and ethical perspective is under question. Solid COOs are great for tightening the ship and working with others to structure organizations in a way that leads to optimal efficiency and profits in the long term, but Uber needs more than that. They need a COO that can build the confidence and trust that investors, employees and other external shareholders are withholding from Kalanick at the moment.

Uber today is akin to Facebook in the Pre-Sandberg days.

In Facebook’s early days, the product was rapidly expanding but people questioned whether or not the media-shy, hoodie-toting Zuckerberg had what it took from a leadership standpoint to manage this growing company. This was a crisis of confidence, and while it took some time, Sheryl Sandberg was instrumental in shifting the dialogue about the future of the company by presenting a dynamic leadership duo.

Her years of experience at Google, coupled with the slightly controversial, yet wildly popular Lean In movement, allowed Zuckerberg to be the visionary leader at the helm of Facebook, while she remained the capable champion charged with strategically pushing the business forward.

Sandberg proved to be so much more than a COO, and both the business outlook and the company’s reputation improved as a result.

Uber’s Path To Success In 4 Stages

1. Diversify the COO contenders. Think hard about who should assume this number two role. It should be someone akin to Stacy Brown Philpot. Someone with a story like hers make sense for the road they need to travel as an organization.

2. Allow Travis Kalanick to be a true visionary CEO. Founders are special types of leaders. His vision for the business is likely unrivaled, but he should not be the sole face of the company. The narrative needs to both shift and expand if Uber will win (part of this will involve improving driver relations).

3. IPO or not. This topic is one for another day, but it is important to list this in order to get to number four.

4. Set the next Uber COO up for success…and then elevate them to CEO. I believe Kalanick’s days as CEO may be numbered…but an active Chairman’s role may be in his future (#3 going well is critical to this). We have seen this time and time again where the visionary must ultimately step aside in order for the business to truly flourish operationally. That time is not today, but it is coming…and it should be embraced.

If Uber wants to stick around to have the legacy of history’s most transformative companies, the leadership team will choose well at this critical juncture, thinking about both the financial business and reputation challenges the next COO will need to tackle.

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