Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Travis Kalanick resigns as Uber CEO

The move was prompted by a letter, entitled "Moving Uber Forward, drafted by five big investors and delivered to Kalanick in Chicago.

Uber is a lot of things. It has rightly earned the admiration of free-market champions for bringing an entirely new business model to the transportation world, one in which supply and demand were synced up in real time, as riders could see how many drivers were in their area on their app, and drivers could likewise see what the concentration level of riders was like - indeed, whether it had risen to the point where surge pricing was in effect. The unionized taxi industry hates it, which led to baseball bats being taken to Uber cars at the Paris airport a couple of years ago.

But the company had some odd ways to go about asserting its efficacy, such as hiring former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to be its negotiating face with regulators, or hiring Eric Holder to lobby for it against efforts to make it conduct fingerprint checks, and then putting him in charge of an internal investigation into funny-business aspects of its corporate culture.

And about that funny business in the culture: It seems the place was rife with sexual harassment and bullying and bad morale.

It's at least somewhat emblematic of the tech-world's ethos in general: a combination of nerd-style go-getter-ism with a strong scent of testosterone, a corporate line crafted to burnish its progressive bona fides, and a line of undeniably cool products and services.

There's a real outreach campaign going with regard to drivers, probably at lest in part due to feeling the heat from proliferating competition. Tipping is now going to be part of the model, as is getting paid for wait times, and driver injury protection insurance.

Good moves, but let's hope the company is not drifting in the direction of conferring employee status on drivers. Ride-sharing's entrepreneurial aspect is most of its appeal.

But its current fortunes are representative of something true in any realm of human activity: Without a culture that venerates character, the most exciting model for improving everybody's lot will not sustain the enterprise.

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