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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will take a leave of absence from the ride-hailing company he founded as it grapples with a host of scandals.
“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders,” Kalanick wrote in a company-wide email obtained by BuzzFeed News. “For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”
Kalanick did not offer a date for his return.
“The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders.”
Uber's board met on Sunday in Los Angeles and voted to accept all the recommendations made by the former attorney general Eric Holder and lawyer Tammy Albarrán, who conducted an internal investigation into Uber's culture following allegations of systemic sexism and sexual harassment at the company. The recommendations included that Kalanick give up some of his CEO duties, and that the company hire a chief operating officer to serve as a “full partner” of the CEO.
Kalanick's break from the company comes after months of turmoil, as well as a personal tragedy: his mother died in a boating accident last month, and his father was left in a serious condition.
Members of the board had previously professed faith in Kalanick in spite of the growing controversies. His sabbatical will contribute to a leadership void at Uber, as more than a dozen executives have left the company this year alone. Uber has been searching for months for a COO to serve as number two to Kalanick.
“If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0.”
Uber has faced crisis after crisis this year. In January, Kalanick dropped out of President Trump’s economic advisory group before its first meeting after protests outside the company's headquarters, employee dissent, and a #DeleteUber backlash that inspired about 200,000 users to delete their accounts. On Feb. 19, a female ex-engineer at the company posted a viral blog detailing systemic sexism at Uber, prompting an internal investigation into its workplace culture. Kalanick apologized and promised Uber would “do better.” Later that month, a video surfaced of Kalanick yelling at an Uber driver during an argument about fares. Kalanick, 40, pledged to “grow up” and get “leadership help.” Employees at the company have told BuzzFeed News the incidents have shaken their faith in Kalanick as a leader.
Uber is embroiled in a bitter trade secrets lawsuit filed by Alphabet's autonomous vehicle unit Waymo, which alleges that a former employee — who later joined Uber — stole information that the ride-hailing giant is using to its benefit. Uber has also admitted that it shortchanged drivers in New York by millions of dollars over the course of more than two years. The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the company's efforts to evade regulators. And Recode reported that Kalanick advised employees on sex rules for a company party in Miami in 2013.
Kalanick became CEO of Uber in December 2010, replacing Ryan Graves, who sits on the company's board and serves as its senior vice president of global operations.
Here's Kalanick's full email to employees:
For the last eight years my life has always been about Uber. Recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work, and that I need to take some time off of the day-to-day to grieve my mother, whom I buried on Friday, to reflect, to work on myself, and to focus on building out a world-class leadership team.
The ultimate responsibility, for where we’ve gotten and how we’ve gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.
During this interim period, the leadership team, my directs, will be running the company. I will be available as needed for the most strategic decisions, but I will be empowering them to be bold and decisive in order to move the company forward swiftly.
It’s hard to put a timeline on this – it may be shorter or longer than we might expect. Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes. The incredible outpouring of heartfelt notes and condolences from all of you have kept me strong but almost universally they have ended with ‘How can I help?‘. My answer is simple. Do your life’s work in service to our mission. That gives me time with family. Put people first, that is my mom’s legacy. And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great.
See you soon,