Uber’s Next CEO: I Am Not Qualified, And Neither Are You

The media has been buzzing for weeks about the challenges facing Uber and its embattled former CEO, Travis Kalanick. The story is a rich and complex one, filled with individual and corporate hubris, ambition, and blindness. It will be dissected and discussed for years to come.

I have no inside knowledge of the battles at Uber, nor do I personally know any of the players. But, as a senior executive of a public software company (Carbonite, NASDAQ: CARB) I know the reality of having to lead, manage difficult situations, and navigate change. I also work for an excellent CEO who has transformed our company during his tenure.

Long ago, I asked myself if I ever wanted to be CEO of a company like Carbonite or Uber. The short answer is no. I enjoy my role as a marketer and evangelist far too much to give it up for a very different role, one that I consider much harder overall. I have worked for and with many talented CEOs in my years as an executive and consultant, and it can be a trying and thankless job. It can also be a role that can lead change from the highest level and have amazing impact on the business, employees, and customers. Consider the work Satya Nadella has done at Microsoft as a prime example of taking over from an iconic predecessor and making your mark.

The situation at Uber is an amazing opportunity for everyone in business to watch what happens and learn. Whomever is brought in as the new CEO will face massive challenges and have very little room for failure. Here is my quick list of just some of the requirements of the job:

  • Initiate sweeping cultural change at a global company
  • Engage with a highly visible and active board
  • Lead and build an executive team likely in turmoil
  • Be the public face of one of the most discussed companies in the world
  • Engage with governments around the world, many of which are fighting your service
  • Reach out to employees and “contractors” reeling from scandal and change
  • Continue innovation and disruption
  • Manage expectations associated with a $70B valuation

That short list should scare away many seemingly qualified candidates for this job. The right person for the role will have to secure enough time to create positive change (is two years enough?), deal with aggressive and newly emboldened competitors, face intense scrutiny every day, and manage to produce tangible results through it all.

Successful executives love a big challenge, but this one feels overwhelming. All the news reports on the situation paint a picture of a company in crisis, and a company desperately in need of a savior. Unfortunately, saviors are hard to find and often sacrificed very quickly.

The choices facing the Uber board are difficult, and the solution will likely not be an obvious one. I applaud those board members that pushed for change, especially knowing the tasks they would have once change occurred. The board is not simply choosing a new CEO, they will be deciding the kind of company they want Uber to become.

Uber needs a leader with nothing to lose and nothing to gain except the success of a company, its employees, and the very idea of the “demand economy” it helped create. This is a challenge for the ages, and I will be watching eagerly to see how it plays out.

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