By Steve Berman
Kalanick stepped downÂ as Uber CEO Tuesday amid demands from the company’s major shareholders that he resign immediately.
In the letter, titled “Moving Uber Forward” and obtained by The New York Times*, the investors wrote to Mr. Kalanick that he must immediately leave and that the company needed a change in leadership. Mr. Kalanick, 40, consulted with at least one Uber board member, and after long discussions with some of the investors, he agreed to step down. He will remain on Uber’s board of directors.*
This particular railroading of a tech executive isn’t as egregious as, say, Brendan Eich, but it is fraught with hypocrisy.
The NYT called Uber “a prime example of Silicon Valley start-up culture gone wrong.” Sexual harassment, avoiding government regulators, mistreating employees (and drivers) were all part of this toxic mix. Except we don’t see Tim Cook being made to resign.
Just nine months ago, a stinging report that “Apple is a sexist, toxic work environment” hit the press. Apple genuflected, said a few Hail Gloria Steinems, issued a new “tough” policy, and was absolved. (I won’t even comment on one reportÂ that Apple was accused of beingÂ a “white, male, Christian, misogynist, sexist environment.” They might as well just said “Christian.”)
And Uber’sÂ SVP of engineering, Amit Singhal, was dismissed because he didn’t tell anyone he left Google over a sexual harassment claim. Google has its own troubles with “start-up” culture. (That term is hilarious. Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and Google parent Alpabet is worth $660 billion.) Nobody is demanding Larry Page’s resignation, even though he played “Red Rover” tossing Singhal to Kalanick.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX was cleared of wrongdoing by a jury in a sexual harassment trial, and faced another one at Tesla, recently sued by AJ Vandermeyden, a female engineer who alleged the company has a climate of “pervasive harassment.” And … nobody’s asking for Musk’s head on a platter.
I think you see the picture here. The difference between hero and zero in Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily what goes on in the rank-and-file. Uber’s board acknowledged that Kalanick “always put Uber first.” In other words, he was a good CEO. So the reason he’s gone must be that he’s a lousy person.
Silicon Valley is full of lousy people and SOB’s. They are the subject of movies. I mean, Steve Jobs, right? But you can be a lousy person and a liberal, and be absolved. What you can’t be is a little bit too close to radioactive President Trump.
You can’t defend a “working relationship” with Trump to your employees. “We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation in cities better,” he told them, “creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off the streets.” Once Kalanick said that, just days after the inauguration, he was doomed.
One driver managed to get him into an embarrassing tirade. The driver recorded it, and three weeks later, slipped it to Bloomberg, which published it. At the time, in March, I wrote this:
I have to believe that there’s more than this. I’m sure there’s a whole treasure trove of damaging stuff that Kalanick’s detractors have sitting around, waiting to release to the press. Staff problems, sexual innuendoes (mentioned in the Bloomberg piece), and other issues will plague Kalanick until he quits.
And Tuesday, the Silicon-Liberal Valley viewpoint posse got their scalp. The message is clear: just about any sin will be forgiven by “start-up culture,” except appearing to be a social conservative.