Let’s stop bitching about Travis and help Uber find their next leader
A shortlist of CEOs capable of leading Uber out of their mess
Travis might just be one of the most disruptive CEOs in the history of startups. He’s been fanatical about disrupting the transportation industry, and while doing so successfully, he has also disrupted his own company. Now he’s forced to step down as CEO and Uber is left without a CEO, COO, CMO and CFO, basically no captain on the gigantic Uber tanker.
It’s time to turn those issues into action
The stories about everything that is wrong with Travis, Uber and their culture are now easy to point to in retrospect. we also can’t really ignore the fact that Uber has been the most successful startup (pre-IPO) to date. However, it’s time for Uber to grow up and the most difficult challenges are ahead. Now they (the 14 person committee) actually has to find the team capable of leading this disruptive technology company, making it a cohesive and inclusive company without losing its ability to shape the future.
When you are recruiting such an important leadership team that, the reality is that they won’t magically fix all their issues (it never works like that), it’s also about how do you manage the fear, anxiety, frustration and disappointed the people at Uber feel right now. There must be loads of people that came to work for Uber, because they believed in the mission and its main leader, Travis. Now they are left in uncertainty and without a captain to steer the ship. Meanwhile the press can’t wait to report on yet another fuck up from Uber. Instead of adding to that reporting style (that reminds me about news sites reporting on Trump, meanwhile it helped them generate a lot of ad revenue), I thought let’s try to help the board of directors and the VCs by making a short list of CEOs that could help fill that position.
Before kicking off the list, it might be helpful to establish the criteria for the CEO.
- As the Eric Holder report mentioned (read here Why the Eric Holder Report is Broken), it’s important to have leadership that have experience with diverse and inclusive workforces.
- The CEO needs to be able to lead a distributed, diverse and complex workforce on a global scale.
- And finally the CEO must be likeable. Without likability there is no chance Uber is going to shake off the tainted reputation they wearing around their neck. The challenge though is that when it’s said we want a leader with experience in diversity, the default way of thinking is that that person needs to be of an underrepresented minority.
The 5 people who could lead Uber
№1 — Sheryl Sandberg (currently COO @Facebook)
“Women don’t take enough risks. Men are just ‘foot on the gas pedal.’ We’re not going to close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap.” — Sheryl Sandberg
As COO from Facebook, she’s been part of one of the (if not the) largest disrupters of everyday life. Facebook moves fast and breaks things, yet it is able to design product experiences that are inclusive to people from all possible backgrounds. Sheryl is also known for her radical candor, yet an exemplar leader how to speak up when it’s your turn. Maybe it will cost a bit to get her detached from Facebook, but I believe Sheryl will be ready to lead a company like Uber.
№2 — Jeff Weiner (currently CEO @LinkedIn)
“You have to maintain a culture of transformation and stay true to your values” — Jeff Weiner
As CEO of LinkedIn he has made impressive strides towards really developing an incredible enterprise that also serves professionals from around the globe from so many different cultures. He has the face and the brains of a true leader that many will follow blindly into the gates of hell. Next to that, Uber is so much more exciting for Jeff than keep hanging around LinkedIn, now it’s part of Microsoft.
№3 — Brian Halligan (currently CEO @Hubspot)
“You’re either “making” a market or “disrupting” a market. “Entering” a market is usually the wrong way to go” — Brian Halligan
Brian seems to know how to go through the growing pains of a company that scales really fast. Next to that he’s also made inbound marketing actually a definition with their product. You want people who can do that type of thing. Downside is that marketing software is slightly less complicated than driverless cars. However, I would say getting someone that comes from such a competitive space, yet still is able to maintain a good culture and keep the company growing is seriously worth considering.
№4 — Jack Ma (currently CEO @Alibaba)
“Before I left China, I was educated that China was the richest, happiest country in the world. So when I arrived Australia, I thought, ‘Oh my God, everything is different from what I was told.’ Since then, I started to think differently.” — Jack Ma
Ok, you probably think, “you are out of your mind! It’s impossible”. Well, was it impossible to think 5 years ago Uber would have been worth $70B without any leadership? Jack is the straightest talker with more persistence than a solar powered Duracell bunny injected with truth serum. With Alibaba he’s created an incredible empire, and was able to do the unimaginable in Asia. It will also give you the opportunity to properly compete in Asia. Chances are though that Jack is too attached to his baby Alibaba and Uber will be too much of a distraction. Thinking further ahead though, Alibaba and Uber is a fascinating technological mix that they could both benefit from. Alibaba figured out smart ways to deal with difficult A to B transportations of goods, and Uber has the tech to efficiently navigate in between.
№5 — Ursula Burns (currently CEO @Xero)
“The world is full of opportunities — every day there’s something new that you can do. For example, you could make dirty water potable. Why does anyone not have potable water? Because it’s a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, but it can be.” — Ursula
Ursula Burns has an incredible rags-to-riches story. She grew up in a New York City housing project in a single mother household. She started at Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering intern, working her way up the ranks. She helped prevent Xerox from filing bankruptcy in 2001, and eight years after that become CEO, the first-ever African-American woman to take such a position at a Fortune 500 company. She has worked hard to make Xerox a sustainable and profitable company. Ursula knows how to get the right wind in the sails again. She will not complain about how challenges and is scared of nothing.
***Jason Fried (currently CEO @Basecamp)***
Basecamp has been growing steadily (and profitable) ever since they were founded. Jason is a total no bullshit person, and is sort of antagonist of modern day startups. However, Jason does know how to manage a distributed team, manage work/life balance and will shine a very positive and curious light on how to fix things. With Jeff Bezos as his mentor, you’ll have the most strategically strong CEO in the world looking over his shoulders (be it good or bad). Oh and perhaps you could David Heinemeier Hansson (@DHH) as the CTO. I can’t wait to actually see that duo lead Uber (however unlikely it will be).
One more thing
A minor change I would suggest in order for the CEO to really focus on creating a company people are proud and happy to go to work everyday, is that his pay will be tied into how engaged people are (stolen from Benno Dorer, the highest rated CEO on Glassdoor in 2017).
Now it’s your turn committee… (f*ck that sounds so bureaucratic).