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The Legacy of Uber’s Absent Leadership

I read that there is a petition circulating at Uber to bring Travis back. For for those petitioning for it, I have a small piece of advice: Take your heads out of your collective asses.

Travis is not and was never a leader. I won’t bore you with what I believe leadership is, but I will submit that creating a company and culture that has allowed, enabled, and encouraged potentially illegal, immoral and unethical behavior for several years is not leadership. I would also invite you to reflect upon how people who thrived in this environment were rewarded and promoted.

Many of you took who took the time and effort to create and circulate a petition say, Travis is changing. You point out that he just lost his mother and should be granted some compassion, empathy, and understanding. I wonder if many of you extended the same empathy, compassion and public offerings of support for your current and former co-workers who went public with their concerns. Did you reach out and try to save their jobs or did you circle the wagons and question their motives or ability to perform their jobs?

I encourage those of you who seek his return, to look at the human cost of the type of leadership that Travis embodied. There is the pain and humiliation that Susan Fowler experienced under that leadership. The fear for her family that Sarah Lacey had to endure after she was publicly threatened by one of your co-workers. Tell me, what type of leadership creates an environment where an executive can acquire and share medical files of a sexual assault victim with the executive staff and only be terminated when it is leaked to the press. Where else have any of you worked where your leadership has to explain the suicide of a co-worker? Is it amazing leadership that creates an environment where you have to have the former Attorney General of the United States, lead an investigation? With 17 years at companies like Slack, Twitter, Apple, Google, and, I never witnessed anything even remotely this toxic, this amoral, and this unethical.

Perhaps many of you are thinking, that I don’t work there, I don’t know Travis like you know Travis, that he is growing and changing as a leader due to these (self-inflicted) disasters and that the Board should have given him the chance. While this may be true, the facts are that his leadership has not only created the toxic environment for people inside of Uber, but the growth at all cost mentality has increasingly put riders and drivers in situations where they have feared for their safety. I learned first hand about the issues with rider safety when I interviewed at Uber in June 2015 for a engineering leadership position. Imagine my concern when those exact same problems were brought to my attention in a May 2017 interview for a similar engineering position at Uber. What type of leadership puts human safety on a back burner for 2 years. All for the sake of growth?

In February I tweeted:

And almost every week since that tweet, a new story has surfaced about the toxicity that the Uber environment has created, nurtured and doubled down on. A truly amazing series of self-inflicted disasters that continue to demoralize a workforce. This is the leadership of Uber in action.

Those of you who want Travis back should take a hard, long look at the legacy he is leaving. That type leadership is why Susan Fowler wrote her blog post, it’s why the Justin Caldbecks have operated with impunity for much too long. This type of leadership is why Ellen Pao sued KPCB. This is the type of leadership that treats women and people of color in tech like second class citizens and is why we leave tech at such high rates.

We all make mistakes in our careers. Some mistakes cost us the trust and confidence of our co-workers and some mistakes or missteps cost us our jobs. This is a corrective mechanism that has to exist in an organization and one that did not exist, specifically at the executive level at Uber. This is a legacy of arrogance, hubris, entitlement. That this legacy allows an executive team to operate with this level of impunity and not be held accountable is the very definition of white male privilege. This is the Legacy and the Leadership of Travis Kalanick.




The Musings of a Black Man in Tech

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The Complicated Man Who Risks his neck for non-binary peeps, trans folk, women and men. 1st CTO @ObamaFoundation , @SlackHQ , @Twitter @Google @Apple

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