Exit Emil Michael (and not a moment too soon)
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the Uber dinner party controversy of 2014 might. That’s when he floated an idea to counter their negative image in the media by spending “a million dollars” to hire opposition researchers and journalists to look into “your personal lives, your families” and as Buzzfeed puts it: “give the media a taste of its own medicine.” When someone at the dinner pointed out to him that such a move would be a problem for Uber, Michael replied: “Nobody would know it was us.”
Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.
At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.
Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
What finally got him removed
Michael’s removal is likely one of a set of recommendations resulting from an investigation into Uber’s workplace environment, which is led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The as-yet-unannounced recommendations were approved unanimously by Uber’s board members in an emergency meeting on Sunday (yesterday at the time of writing). It’s generally believed that the report from the investigation, which will be released Tuesday (tomorrow at the time of writing) will paint a picture of a “Lord of the Flies” workplace, filled with retaliation-as-business-as-usual, sexism and sexual harassment, and other corporate “rules are for the little people”-style hijinks. Michael fits in all three buckets quite well.
If you ask most competent executives what they would do if an employee brought them a potentially controversial file that was part of a criminal investigation, the answer is always the same.
Which is: You do not read it or even touch it. You order that it be given to the company’s lawyer immediately. You quiz the employee as to the provenance and consider firing that person if you suspect it was illegally obtained.
So why did it take so long for his bosses at Uber to find out why and how a top executive named Eric Alexander, the now former president of business in the Asia Pacific, managed to acquire the confidential medical records, along with a police file, concerning the case of a woman who was violently raped in India in 2014.
Alexander showed the dossier to fellow executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick and yes, Emil Michael, and Recode reports that “numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them.” IEven the writers of Silicon Valley might not have written what actually happened in response: in spite of the fact that none of Uber’s execs have medical training, they still raised questions about the incident based on the illegally- and unethically-acquired medical report.
There’s also his presence at the now-infamous night at the Seoul karaoke/escort bar where “executives reportedly selected women to be their companions for the night by the numbers hanging around their necks.” In case you were wondering, CEO Travis Kalanick was also there.
His departure email
It’s standard damage-control departee boilerplate, and was likely vetted by team of legal and PR flacks:
Yesterday was my last day with Uber. Starting today, David Richter, our current VP of Strategic Initiatives, will be the new SVP of Business. David is an extremely talented leader and I have high confidence in his ability to help drive the company forward.
I signed on with the company almost four years ago and it has truly been the experience of a lifetime helping Uber become the fastest growing company of all-time — spanning 75 countries with over 14,000 employees.
I am proud of our business team’s part in contributing to the company’s overall success. We have fueled our growth by raising more money than any other tech company in history; we completed one of the most valuable mergers in American/Chinese tech history with the Didi deal; and we have secured ground-breaking partnerships with automobile companies all over the world to support our autonomous vehicle efforts.
But I am most proud of the quality of the team we have built. Beginning with my first day at Uber, I have been committed to building a diverse Business Team that would be widely recognized as the best in the technology world: one that is welcoming to people of all genders, sexual orientations, national origins and educational backgrounds. I am proud that our group has made so much progress toward these goals and is a leader in the company in many of these categories. As an Egyptian immigrant who was taken under the wing of a great business leader like Bill Campbell, I have an abiding belief that we all should pay it forward by ensuring that our workplace represents all types of people.
Uber has a long way to go to achieve all that it can and I am looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the years ahead.
What happens next, and why they may soon be “self-driving”
As a recent article on Medium put it, your company’s culture is who you hire, fire, and promote. Uber’s culture, by and large, is based around emulating its founder and CEO, whose future is now murky. As a tacit approver of all of Uber’s wrong-doings and the symbol of the worst kind of people in Silicon Valley, the only way he can elicit any sympathy right now is the result of bad luck: his mother was killed and his father was injured in a boating accident in late May.
The board has the option to fire him, but they probably won’t. Kalanick probably has too much useful tacit knowledge and understanding of Uber’s game plan to dismiss outright. They’ll probably make him take some time off — with the stated reason being that he needs to mourn his mother and take care of his father — and bring him back into the company in a new, less-public-facing role.
Here’s where Uber management stands at the moment:
- CEO: We’ll find out tomorrow.
- CBO: That was Emil Michael, who resigned today (or more likely, was “voluntold” to do so).
- COO: They’ve been looking for someone who can deal with Kalanick.
- CFO: Gautam Gupta left at the end of May to join a startup.
- President, Technologies: Jeff Jones quit in March.
- SVP of Engineering: Amit Singhal resigned after it was found that he failed to disclose his real reason for elaving Google: allegations of sexual harassment.
- Chief Brand Officer: Apple Music marketing exec Bozoma Saint John joined just last week, which should make for an interesting first 90 days on the job.
That’s a lot of people not at the wheel, or as Hemal Shah put it on Twitter:
Uber no longer has a COO, CBO, CFO, CMO or SVP of Eng and may temporarily not have a CEO.
From autonomous cars…to autonomous company
— Hemal Shah (@hemal) June 12, 2017
- Global Nerdy: What if we applied the “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their BOSSES” maxim to Uber’s president’s resignation?
- Global Nerdy: The Uber story that everyone’s talking about right now, and some helpful background info
- Susan Fowler: Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber
- Fast Company: This is what cause Uber’s broken company culture
Here’s how you can delete your Uber account, courtesy of David Heinemeier Hansson:
And finally, here’s Cracked’s excellent video, Why Uber is Terrible: