- Reuters Staff
Uber was already off to a bad start in 2017.
But now, just halfway through the year, the $69 billion ride-hailing company has lost its CEO and numerous other executives and fired over 20 other employees as it’s been rocked by scandal after scandal.
Uber’s bad luck began in January when the #DeleteUber movement led to a flurry of account deletions by customers upset about the company’s ties to President Trump. It lost more than 200,000 customers in just one weekend.
That was just a prelude to Uber’s no-good, very bad year. Since February, when a blog post by a former engineer sparked a major investigation into the company’s business and culture, Uber has been pummeled by a seemingly never-ending barrage of bad news.
The series of crises ultimately led to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation on Tuesday amid an investor revolt. Here’s everything that’s happened to Uber since things took a turn for the worse with the engineer’s post:
- Skye Gould/Business Insider
February 19: The beginning
- Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Susan Fowler starts it all with her reflections on “one very, very strange year at Uber.” Fowler, a former engineer at the company, alleges in a blog post that she was sexually harassed at Uber and experienced gender bias during her time at the company. She claims a manager propositioned her and asked for sex, but she says her complaints to Uber’s human resources department were dismissed because the manager was a high performer. Uber continued to ignore her complaints, and her manager threatened to fire her for reporting things to HR, she says.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick immediately pledges to look into Fowler’s allegations. Kalanick responds within hours of the post’s publication to say that what Fowler said she experienced was “abhorrent & against everything we believe in.” Uber hires Eric Holder, a former US attorney general, to lead an independent investigation into its workplace culture.
A few days later, the New York Times publishes a bombshell report that suggests Fowler’s claims were not isolated. Employees did cocaine during a company retreat and a manager had to be fired after groping multiple women, according to the report. Former employees tell the Times they notified Uber’s leadership, including Kalanick and CTO Thuan Pham, about workplace harassment.
February 23: Investor betrayal and accusations of stolen technology
Uber investors Freada and Mitch Kapor blast the company for failing to change. In an open letter to Uber’s investors and board, the Kapors say Uber has ignored their years long behind-the-scenes efforts to positively influence the company’s culture. “We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside,” the Kapors write.
Waymo, the spinout of Google, another Uber investor, sues the ride-hailing company for intellectual property theft. In an explosive lawsuit, Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving-car division, accuses Uber of using stolen technology to advance its own autonomous-car development. Filed in the US District Court in San Francisco, the suit claims a team of ex-Google engineers stole Waymo’s design for the laser sensor that allows self-driving cars to map the environment around them.
February 27: A high-profile exec is out under a cloud of controversy
- Flickr / Niall Kennedy
Uber’s senior vice president of engineering steps down amid allegations of sexual-harassment at his previous job. Recode’s Kara Swisher notifies the company of the allegations against the engineer, Amit Singhal, while reporting a story. When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick find out about them, he asks Singhal to resign. Singhal, who passed Uber’s standard background checks before joining the company, strenuously denies the allegations.
February 28: Kalanick loses his cool
A dashcam video catches Uber’s CEO in a heated argument over prices. Bloomberg publishes a video showing Kalanick losing his cool in an argument with an Uber driver after the driver confronted him about reduced fares.
Kalanick issues a “profound” apology and says he’ll seek leadership help. “My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud,” he writes in his apology note. “That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
March 3: ‘Greyballs’ and another executive resignation
The New York Times reveals Uber has been secretly deceiving authorities for years with a tool called ‘Greyball’. Uber used the tool to evade authorities, particularly at times when city regulators were trying to block the ride-hailing service, according to a report by The Times’ Mike Isaac. The tool collected data from Uber’s app to identify and evade officials in cities like Boston, Paris, and Las Vegas. The Times reports that the program was used in markets where Uber was banned or being resisted by law enforcement.
Uber loses another top official. Uber’s vice president of product and growth, Ed Baker, resigns suddenly after more than three years at the company. In an email obtained by Recode, Baker says he wants to join the public sector. But Recode raises question about the timing of his departure, reporting that other employees had complained about his “questionable” behavior.
March 7: Uber is officially looking for a COO
- REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Kalanick agrees to get help for the next chapter of Uber. After admitting he needs leadership help following the leaked video of him arguing with a driver, Kalanick announces he is looking for a chief operating officer for the company – “a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey.” Many observers hope Uber will hire someone like Sheryl Sandberg to balance Kalanick, if not just Sandberg herself.
March 8: Uber changes it mind about greyballing as the executive exodus continues
- Carl Court/Getty Images
Uber backtracks and changes its position on “Greyballing.” After initially gleefully admitting it had used the controversial tool to target government officials, Uber reverses its position and says it will no longer use it going forward.
The executive exodus continues with Uber’s head of artificial intelligence departing. Gary Marcus steps aside to become an “adviser” to Uber, only four months after the ride-hailing company had acquired his AI startup, Geometric Intelligence.
March 19: Uber’s president quits
Uber suffers another black eye when its president abruptly quits the company. In a statement, Jeff Jones says he’s leaving because “the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided [his] career are inconsistent with what [he] saw and experienced at Uber.”
There is no love lost between the company and Jones, who leaves just six months after he joined the company. “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber. It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly,” Kalanick says in a note to employees.
Shortly after Jones’ departure, word comes that another exec is also leaving. Brian McClendon, a vice president who led Uber’s mapping teams, had already been planning to leave the company. But the timing of the news isn’t optimal, given the other recent departures. McClendon says he’s heading back to Kansas where he wants to get into politics.
March 25: Travis Kalanick’s visit to a Seoul escort-karaoke bar is revealed
- Paul Morigi/Getty
A bombshell report by The Information describes a 2014 visit by an Uber team to an escort-karaoke bar in Seoul. According to the report, “four male Uber managers picked women out of the group, calling out their numbers, and sat with them.” After the evening, a female Uber employee told the company’s HR department the trip made her uncomfortable, according to the report.
Later, on the same day the report is published, an Uber SUV operating in autonomous mode is involved in an accident. Nobody is seriously injured, and a police spokesperson reportedly says Uber is not at fault. But Uber tells Business Insider it’s halting its self-driving car pilot test in Arizona. It later restarts its self-driving car trials.
March 28: It hasn’t been all bad, though. Uber’s diversity report is better than expected.
- Skye Gould/Business Insider
Uber releases its diversity numbers. As part of its pledge to turn around the company, Uber releases its first diversity report. That’s something Kalanick resisted for years, but the investigation into the company’s work culture changes the CEO’s mind.
The report reveals that Uber is in the middle of the pack when compared to industry giants like Facebook, Apple, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft. One glaring problem the report highlights is the lack of women and underrepresented minorities in tech leadership positions. Nearly 89% of the company’s technical directors are male, and 75% are white.
April 11: Uber’s communicator-in-chief calls it quits
Rachel Whetstone, Uber’s head of communications and policy, leaves the company. Whetstone, who joined Uber in 2015 after a long stint overseeing communications at Google, had struggled to get Uber back on message amid the repeated crises. Jill Hazelbaker, who previously reported to Whetstone, takes over for her.
April 17: And the bleed of senior leadership just won’t stop
Sherif Marakby, who helped start Uber’s self-driving car program, leaves. Marakby’s departure comes amid Uber’s lawsuit with Waymo over autonomous car technology, but Uber says his job change is unrelated. After spending just a year with Uber, Marakby is now back at Ford to lead the car giant’s self-driving car unit.
April 23: It wasn’t just “Greyball.” Uber tried to deceive Apple, too
- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A report reveals tension between Apple and Uber. After calling Kalanick to his office, Apple CEO Tim Cook had threatened to yank Uber’s app from the iPhone maker’s App Store, New York Times reports. Cook accused Uber of violating the App Store’s terms and conditions, according to the report.
Uber had incorporated into its app a small piece of code that could identify particular phones, even if after they had been wiped of their data. The ride-hailing company had included the code to prevent fraud, according to the report. The software allowed the company to detect if someone was using the same phone over and over again but wiping it repeatedly to take advantage of promo codes.
May 4: The U.S. Justice department opens a criminal investigation into Uber’s use of ‘Greyball’
- Reuters Staff
The U.S. Justice Department launchesa criminal probe into “Greyball.” Authorities are looking into Uber’s use of the tool, which helped its drivers evade transportation regulators who were looking to crack down on the ride-hailing service, Reuters reports. Uber had previously acknowledged using “Greyball”, including against officials in cities like Portland, Oregon.
May 11: Uber’s case with Waymo is put under a criminal microscope
A judge denies Uber’s bid to avoid a trial with Waymo and refers Uber’s case to prosecutors. Judge William Alsup asks the US attorney to examine whether Uber may have broken the law and stolen technology to build self-driving cars, a stunning twist in the legal fight between the ride-hailing company and Waymo. Alsup also rules that Waymo can take its claims against Uber to trial, denying Uber’s bid to move the case into private arbitration.
May 15: A judge blocks Anthony Levandowski from working on self-driving cars.
A federal judge bars an Uber self-driving car engineer from doing related work. The actions of Anthony Levandowski, who previously worked at Google, are at the heart of the ongoing legal dispute between Uber and Waymo. Judge William Alsup’s order prohibits Levandowski from working on the lidar laser sensor technology used by autonomous cars to map their environment.
Uber had already preemptively demoted Levandowski from leading its self-driving-car project and had barred him from working on lidar technology.
May 18: Uber’s longtime general counsel gets a promotion — but opens up another vacancy
Uber’s top lawyer takes a new job at the company. Salle Yoo is promoted to chief legal officer after nearly five years at the company. In her new role, Yoo will work closely with Uber’s HR chief, Liane Hornsey, on the company’s upcoming cultural shift. But her move means Uber’s general counsel post, which manages its day-to-day legal affairs, is open, giving the company another key position it has to fill.
May 23: Uber has to pay out millions after a bad accounting error
- REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Uber reveals an accounting mistake caused it to shortchange its drivers in New York City for years. Uber tells drivers in New York City it will repay them “tens of millions” of dollars after it took more than its share of the fares customers paid for rides. On average, most drivers in the city will receive about $900, the company says.
May 30: Levandowski is officially out
Uber fires Levandowski. Uber had been asking the former head of its self-driving car program for months to assist with its internal investigation for its defense against Waymo’s charges. But Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment rightto protect himself against self-incrimination.
May 31: Uber’s head of finance leaves after the company announces it lost $700 million in the first quarter
Uber officially starts a search for a chief financial officer. The company initiates its search after Gautam Gupta, who had served as its head of finance but was never named CFO, resigns. Gupta’s departure comes as Uber reports it lost $708 million in Q1. The company had already lost $2.8 billion in 2016, not including the results of its Chinese operation, which it sold off.
June 5: Uber brings in a leadership coach
Uber adds Frances Frei to tackle its notorious workplace culture and leadership problems. After launching its investigation into its workplace culture in February, the company had asked Frei, a professor at Harvard Business School and expert on gender inequality, to serve as a consultant. Frei’s role becomes a full-time gig as she joins Uber as its new senior vice president of leadership and strategy.
Frei will oversee “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,” the company says in its announcement.
June 6: Uber fires over 20 people for bad behavior
Uber fires more than 20 employees as a result of its internal investigation.The company says it received 215 complaints during its inquiry into inappropriate behavior at its workplace.
Here’s how Uber categorized the 215 complaints :
• Discrimination: 54
• Sexual harassment: 47
• Unprofessional behavior: 45
• Bullying: 33
• Harassment (other): 19
• Retaliation: 13
• Physical security: 3
• Wrongful termination: 1
June 7: Uber fires a senior executive for carrying around a rape victim’s medical records
- Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
Uber fires its head of Asia business. The move comes after press reports reveal Eric Alexander had been carrying around the medical records of a rape victim from India for a year and had shown them to other top executives. Uber’s top executives, including Kalanick, not only looked at the records, but pointed to them while internally questioning whether the rape occurred, according to a report in Recode. The executives also speculated that one of Uber’s rivals in India could have been using the report of the rape to undermine the company there, according to the report.
Day later the victim sues Uber over the mishandling of her private information.
June 8: The infamous “Miami Letter” becomes public
A news report reveals an email Kalanick sent in advance of a company party in Miami. Recode publishes an internal message the CEO sent before the 2013 event. Reading a lot like what a college fraternity president might send out to his brothers, the email, which Kalanick sent out to hundreds of employees before the 2013 event and again the following year, spelled out in sophomoric terms rules not only about drinking and what not to do with kegs but also about sex.
June 12: Uber’s business chief is pushed out
Uber’s business chief is forced to resign amid board pressure. As one of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s closest confidants, Emil Michael had overseen Uber’s broader business strategy, including its partnerships and fundraising. Michael, who was known to have a direct role in several of Uber’s scandals, resigns as the company nears the completion of its internal investigation. He blames the board, and not his own behavior, for his departure from the company, Bloomberg reports.
June 13: Kalanick takes a surprising break from Uber
- REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Kalanick announces he’ll take a leave of absence. With the internal investigation wrapping up, the CEO, whose mother recently died in a boating accident, tells Uber employees in an email that he’s going to take a break from the company.
Uber announces that it’s agreed to put in place wide-ranging changes to its policies and workplace culture. In a report to Uber’s board, the investigative team led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder had recommended that Uber make 47 specific changes. Directors unanimously agreed to all of them. The changes will include oversight from a more independent board, a complete re-writing of its list of cultural values, and an effort to make its workplace more family friendly. Additionally, Uber agrees to tie executive pay to efforts to build more diverse and inclusive teams.
June 20: Kalanick’s break becomes permanent when the CEO resigns
- REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Kalanick steps down from the CEO position after receiving a hand-delivered letter from investors. In the letter, a group of five investors asked Kalanick to resign. He will be staying on the board, though, and will have a role in picking out his successor.
“I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick says in an email sent to employees.
After his departure, Uber employees express mixed feelings about what the move will mean for the company. In the days following his resignation, a group of employees present to the board a petition with more than 1,000 signatures demanding that directors put Kalanick back in charge.