It is crazy to me how outraged people are about the whole Uber scandal. Everyone who invested in Travis Kalanick, its founder and now former CEO, knew who he was. He hasn’t changed.
Man of Vision
They saw this incredibly talented young man with a vision to change the world in the developing share economy. His vision focused on the biggest potential market for the sharing economy—automobiles.
- Everyone owns one.
- Everyone needs to go somewhere.
- Everyone needs extra money.
- Everyone uses their cars about an hour or two per day.
He took all these elements, stirred them vigorously and created Uber, a company now worth $68b.
Not Our Guy
Now we are seeing the culture Travis created while building the company. Everybody is upset…even the investors. They went from praising Travis to firing him. From lionizing his brilliance to judging his morals. From putting him on a platform as one of the most gifted entrepreneurs to condemning him and distancing themselves from him as a bad example of failed leadership.
I learned a lesson about corporate culture over 35 years ago. Robert, our VP of Marketing, and I pressed our founder about defining our corporate culture. He got sick and tired of us talking about it and called a Saturday morning meeting. There the three of us sat. Robert and I on one side of the table and the founder on the other side.
He started and ended the meeting with this statement: “You want to know our corporate culture? I am the corporate culture. If you don’t like it, leave.” That was the end of the meeting.
Mistakes of Cultural Meritocracy
The corporate culture of Uber can be summarized in one word, “Meritocracy.” The best succeed and the rest are unimportant. Another way of describing this culture is “survival of the fittest.”
In business terms, it is all about the money. As long as you are succeeding in building a fast-growth, valuable company, it doesn’t really matter how you do it.
When Investors Get Questioned
Investors don’t question how you do it. They really don’t care. It’s working. Until one day they are made to care. Then it is their values under fire when these the questions start coming.
“Would you treat women that way?”
“Do you agree with all the backstabbing that’s going on to get ahead?”
“Is it OK to have sexual relations with any of the women in the company as long as they aren’t in your chain of command?”
“Is HR in place to protect the violators as long as they are top performers?”
“Does the business purposely come before family?”
This is how Uber operated. This is how Travis operates. This is who he is.
When It’s All About Money
The investors made a decision at the time of their investment. They believed this guy had a great idea and he could make it happen. Maybe they didn’t know he would behave ruthlessly and without regard to women’s rights. The culture didn’t matter. He was killing it. Their stock was worth millions and, in some cases, billions.
When it is all about the money, success is the only measurement that counts. This means there is no accountability to any moral standard. The heart of man is clearly revealed apart from God. In this belief system, man, not God, defines right and wrong. Therefore, the CEO/founder defines the culture because, in his company, he is god.
An Awesome Challenge
I am reading that over a thousand of the employees want Travis reinstated as CEO. Of course they do. This is the man they want to follow. They joined and stayed with the company because they believe in him. They believe in what he stands for. They enjoy the benefits of being the survivors. They like the culture. They are the culture.
Think how difficult the job of the new CEO. He has to change the culture and maintain Uber’s fast-growth trajectory. How much turnover will he cause? How many people will leave? How many will have to be fired? It will be done but not without drama and some growth hiccups.
So what’s it like to work in your company?