Uber’s had a no-good, very-bad year, and now it has a new executive on board, charged with tackling the notorious workplace culture and leadership problems plaguing the world’s most valuable tech startup.
When Uber launched an investigation into its workplace environment in February, it tapped Frances Frei, a well-known expert who has focused on problems like gender equality at Harvard’s business school, to consult with the company.
That’s now become a full-time gig, and on Monday, the company announced Frei will join Uber as its new SVP of Leadership & Strategy, reporting directly to CEO Travis Kalanick.
She’ll be working alongside Uber’s HR chief Liane Hornsey and its executive team on “critical areas”, which includes “company strategy and planning; organizational transformation and design; management and leadership; coaching, supporting and developing a world-class leadership team; and articulating and helping to architect and adapt our cultural philosophy,” per Uber’s announcement.
A full plate
Her job to help turn around the $69 billion company may be one of the most difficult in Silicon Valley. Uber’s troubles began in January after more than 200,000 customers deleted their accounts in the wake of the #DeleteUber movement.
In February, a former engineer published a blog post detailing the harassment she endured at the company, which prompted Uber to immediately launch an investigation into the company’s workplace. Since then, the company has also been the target of a federal investigation into the launch of a tool called Greyball, which obscured public official’s use of the app, and was sued by Google spin-out Waymo for allegedly stealing its trade secrets.
There’s also been a flood of execs leaving the company – nine at last count – leaving top leadership positions like COO and CFO empty.
Frei, in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, said the vacancies were a concern at the company, as Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has lacked a team that he can rely on and now has many positions to fill. The leadership team also lacked things like clear weekly agendas, professional offsite meetings, and accountability, Frei told Swisher.
Beyond the executive team, Uber has both too many leaders and too little training across the organization – something Frei will be tasked with fixing.
Her hire comes at an inflection point for the company’s culture. Uber is expected to release the results of the February investigation into the company’s workplace in the coming week, which could result in more upheaval and departures among Uber’s upper echelon.