Get All Access for $5/mo

Why Travis Kalanick's Ouster Is an Uber Disaster Pushing out the founding CEO in the midst of an existential crisis is a huge misstep.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Wang K'aichicn | VCG | Getty Images

Uber, the poster child for Silicon Valley bro culture that once seemed impervious to all manner of scandals, lawsuits and boycotts, now finds itself leaderless and in disarray: Travis Kalanick has agreed to step down as CEO, leaving the world's most valuable startup in the hands of a committee of executives and the board of directors.

The question is: Was the board's insistence that he resign immediately while in exile to "work on Travis 2.0," "become the leader that this company needs" and mourn the tragic death of his mother, what's best for Uber?

In my view, it's an enormous misstep. The right move would have been to insist that he stay on and help clean up the mess he created while the board searches for a new chief executive. There's a very good reason why there is no precedent for a big corporation to be essentially headless during an existential crisis: You can't run a corporation that way. It's a recipe for disaster.

Related: Travis Kalanick Stepped Down, But Uber's Problems Won't Be Instantly Solved

By any measure, Uber has had a wild ride. Founded just eight years ago by Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the ride hailing company now has 12,000 employees, $6.5 billion in revenue, operates in 82 countries, has raised $12.9 billion in funding and is worth $68 billion. Nobody "cabs it" anymore; we all just "grab an Uber."

But here's the thing. In the wake of former engineer Susan Fowler's explosive blog post alleging widespread gender bias, sexual harassment and management mayhem, the company has lost much of its top brass, including the heads of strategy, finance, engineering, ride sharing and marketing. All those CEO direct reports need to be replaced, and pronto.

In addition, the board of directors just unanimously voted to adopt a laundry list of recommendations from a 13-page report by former chief justice Eric Holder's legal team, including the need to overhaul Kalanick's 14 corporate values and recruit a chief operating officer to serve as a full partner to the CEO.

Related: Uber Fires More Than 20 Employees for Harassment

Now none of that is going to happen until the company finds a new chief, which could take many months. Which means that Uber is essentially in strategic and operating limbo. That would be problematic enough if everything was hunky dory, but everything is so not hunky dory it isn't funny. The company is in the midst of an epic crisis, and its Yahoo-like brain drain may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Uber is one of the fastest-growing companies in tech history, which means that recruiting and retaining talent are among its most critical functions. That's going to be tough with its company culture under siege and its reputation in tatters. And a leaked audio file has HR chief Liane Hornsey telling employees "I know that you're polishing your resumes" and imploring them to stick around.

It's no secret that the San Francisco-based company burns enormous amounts of capital to fund its uber-growth. The company reportedly blew through $2.8 billion last year alone. While I'm sure it has plenty of money in the bank, Uber can't go very long without raising funds, and that might be problematic with virtually every C-level function twisting in the wind.

Related: Leadership and Teamwork Are How You Avoid Getting Uber'd

Even if it does raise capital, Uber might be pressured into a down round. While not a big deal for early stage VCs like Benchmark and Menlo Ventures, who actually forced Kalanick's ouster, that could potentially hurt investors that came in late in the game at higher valuations, such as BlackRock, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, Microsoft, New Enterprise Associates and Morgan Stanley. That would also affect employee morale, no doubt.

There is, however, another possible explanation for the board to force Kalanick's resignation. This is just conjecture, mind you, but I suppose they felt the need for a demonstration of extreme contrition from a man who created what the media has portrayed and Holder's report all-but-confirmed as a wayward, depraved culture that puts growth and meritocracy above human dignity and diversity. The goal, of course, would be to stem the bleeding and accelerate the heeling of Uber's stricken brand.

Don't get me wrong. I don't see Uber as the evil empire it's been made out to be. Nor do I think it makes sense for any CEO to turn over his company's culture to a team of lawyers, consultants and outside board directors, especially considering that Kalanick and Camp together control voting rights. And the notion of leaving a company in crisis in limbo is just as senseless. In my view, it's either a big mistake or a calculated move. Either way, I think it's incredibly ill-conceived.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

You Can Now Apply to Renew Your U.S. Passport Online — But There's a Catch

The U.S. State Department officially launched the beta program this week.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.