- During an all-hands meeting at Uber on Tuesday, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and the head of the self-driving car unit, Eric Meyhofer, were questioned by employees about the culture at the autonomous-car unit.
- They asked about allegations of infighting and dysfunction in the unit prior to a tragic accident that killed a pedestrian, based on Business Insider’s newly published investigation.
- What followed was a couple of minutes in which the executives told stories and quoted wrong statistics, leading up to Khosrowshahi saying, several times, “we have screwed up.”
On Tuesday, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and the head of its self-driving car unit, Eric Meyhofer, stood up at an all-hands meeting to a smattering of polite applause.
Behind them on a large screen was a list of questions submitted and voted on by employees, indicating the burning questions employees wanted their leaders to address.
At the top, with over 130 votes, was a question about the investigation published by Business Insider last week into Uber’s self-driving car unit known as the Advanced Technologies Group (ATG).
An anonymous employee asked: “Business Insider called ATG’s culture ‘toxic’ and referred to ‘missed warning signs,’ vast dysfunction’ and ‘rampant infighting.’ Any truth in this?”
Business Insider had reported on the goings-on inside the unit in the months before its self-driving car killed Elaine Herzberg, when engineers deliberately turned off the car’s ability to stop itself quickly.
Both Meyhofer and Khosrowshahi spent several minutes addressing the question. They didn’t punt or evade.
But they did downplay the story, tried to discredit the media, and implied it wasn’t factual. Meyhofer even indicated the story was the result of Business Insider contacting former employees and others who didn’t work at the company looking for “sensational bits.”
That wasn’t true. Business Insider talked to a half a dozen people who were all employees of the company on March 18, 2018, when the incident occurred and did so after several people reached out to us and asked us to investigate. We corroborated employee accounts with emails, internal documents, police reports, and other documents. Business Insider also shared all of what we learned with the company prior to publication and included the company’s feedback and statements in the story.
What followed was something that employees gossiped about later on an anonymous chat app.
Meyhofer defended the culture by quoting scores from an internal employee survey, telling everyone that the survey scored “83% for trust. 83% for teamwork and collaboration.”
It turns out that these stats are not accurate, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The 83% score is in reference to how employees feel about the company’s commitment to safety. The results of the survey have not been released to employees, but they also include a score for “trust and transparency,” not “trust and collaboration.”
Meyhofer then launched into a story about his kids. He told Uber employees that he knew culture was great under his leadership because his teenage kids wanted to visit the Uber campus while everyone was away over Thanksgiving break.
“They wanted to be here,” he said of his teenagers. “And I think that speaks really loudly to what we’ve built. They just wanted to be here.”
After hearing Meyhofer’s defense, a handful of employees discussed him on the anonymous chat app Blind, a favorite haunt of frustrated Uber employees.
A Blind post said: “Eric Meyhofer: Based on his response at all hands on ATG culture, discuss his tenure as Head of ATG!” One hundred forty-one people voted to “replace him” and 28 voted to “keep him.” There are 1,100 employees working for him so, of course, that poll is not statistically significant. But it does indicate that at least some employees are gossiping about Meyhofer’s future at Uber.
After the “my kids like it here” story, Khosrowshahi spoke.
Khosrowshahi showed his support of his senior leader by saying some negative things about Business Insider. And then he said, “we did screw up” and that “we are radically changing how we develop, how we test, etcetera. So we’ve gone through changes. We have screwed up.”
Sources tell Business Insider that Khosrowshahi had not been paying much attention to the self-driving car unit in his first year because he was so busy fighting fires with Uber’s main business, but that this is changing now.
On Tuesday, Khosrowshahi indicated as much.
“A year forward from all the controversy that we saw last year, we are better, stronger. And I think ATG is going through that same journey,” he said.
Here’s the full transcript of Meyhofer’s and Khosrowshahi’s answers to this question from the all-hands meeting.
Dara Khosrowshahi: All right. From anonymous: “Business Insider called ATG’s culture ‘toxic’ and referred to ‘missed warning signs, vast dysfunction and rampant fighting.’ Any truth to this?”
We will have Eric address the issue first.
Eric Meyhofer: Another anonymous question. I think it’s pretty important to think about how these articles are written and a little bit of the history on ATG. So in the past 3 1/2 years we have gone through some pretty sensational stuff here at ATG. We have seen really challenging acquisitions, big lawsuits, hyper-growth, significant leadership changes, all kinds of things that can take people to a very emotional place.
And a lot of folks – there are 1,100 here now – imagine how many have gone through this journey. A lot of folks who are no longer with us even that are contacted by these media outlets and they’re looking for sensational bits. And they’ll ask folks that don’t work here questions and take them out of context and put together an article similar to this.
I think what is more indicative of what the culture is like here is, of course, one, being here and seeing it firsthand.
But if you also look at things like our latest round of NPS scores [aka scores from the internal “Pulse Survey”], they have trust here at 83%. 83% for trust. 83% for teamwork and collaboration I think those are a lot more indicative of what is really going on here.
And then I want to kind of take a couple more minutes and share a personal story that I think says a lot about what it’s like here. And that is, so this weekend was Thanksgiving weekend and I was off this weekend, which was quite nice.
And so I’m spending time with my family, specifically with my children and my son is 14, my daughter is 15. And it’s Sunday. And I say, hey, you know, it’s the last day of break. What do you want to do today? And they wanted to come to Uber. They wanted to come to work.
They wanted to be here. And I think that speaks really loudly to what we’ve built. They just wanted to be here.
And I don’t know, what we’ve gone through, how we’ve come together as a team, what we’ve put through on ’18 what our results are and what we have yet to show on ’18, which I can’t wait.
I’m super proud of what we have done and who we are. And so I don’t know how to justify what that article says with the truth and reality. But it’s sensational and it gets people drawn into their media channel and that’s what they’re going for. But we need to take these kinds of things with a grain of salt and stay focused on what the truth really is.
Dara Khosrowshahi: Thanks, Eric.
Just taking this on from my perspective, first of all, I’d encourage anyone to, if you scan the “Business Insider” headlines, it’s a sensational periodical. Not a place you go to for the facts.
That said, I do think that article does reflect the fact that we have been through a ton of change at ATG. And any time you go through a ton of change, right, there’s a leadership change that Eric talked about. There was a tragic accident that happened this year. Those changes have resulted and are significantly changing how we do things and also changing a bunch of folks at the company as well.
And that is going to result in some folks who do not agree with the new direction we’ve taken of the company and some folks who can look back and say, you know what? We screwed up in X, Y and Z.
And by the way, we did screw up in X, Y and Z because we are radically changing how we develop, how we test, etcetera. So we’ve gone through changes. We have screwed up. I don’t think that that article is a true reflection of what has gone on through ATG. But it does reflect what is true, which is we have gone through a lot. And I think our test now is: Can the team come together and build something better? My bet is yes. And we now have to prove it behind that bet, and I think the ATG team is going to come out of this better, tighter, stronger.
But what we do have to acknowledge, which is absolutely true, is it’s been tough.
And our job is to come through this better, stronger as a company. I think Uber has and will. We are kind of going through that journey of coming through and I think this, a year forward from all the controversy that we saw last year, we are better, stronger.
And I think ATG is going through that same journey and I think it will wind up at that same place of “better.”
- Read more:
- Uber insiders describe infighting and questionable decisions before its self-driving car killed a pedestrian
- Uber employees say the company’s autonomous driving unit used this strange term to describe people and animals
- Uber removed the second backup driver from its self-driving cars ahead of the crash that killed an Arizona pedestrian
- Why trees have wreaked havoc on Uber’s self-driving program