Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns after months of damaging headlines

June 21, 2017

Back in April, former Fox News employee Bill O'Reilly took a long vacation from which he never returned. Now, Uber's uber-bro CEO, Travis Kalanick, is following the same play.

Not that he's going willingly, mind you. According to reports, Kalanick was forced out by investors who've become unhappy with his leadership (or lack thereof) in recent months. Among other things:

Last December, Kalanick launched a pilot program involving self-driving cars in San Francisco. Unfortunately, he did so without getting approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, insisting that, because Uber's cars had humans stationed in their driver's seats, they weren't fully autonomous and thus, didn't have to comply with DMV rules. If you've ever been to the DMV, you know how much they appreciated that kind of sass. The program was swiftly suspended. It took three months for Kalanick and Co. to digest enough humble pie to relaunch the program, jumping through the proper hoops.

In January, shortly after president Donald Trump announced a sweeping travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, Kalanick came under fire for being a member of Trump's business council. The #DeleteUber campaign was born. Within days, Kalanick had resigned from the council, but the ill will toward Uber continued, and the company resorted to begging folks who'd deleted the app to reconsider. (Interestingly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk remained on the business council until Trump announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement earlier this month.)

In February, a former Uber employee wrote a blog post detailing her experiences at the company, which were...well, the word "appalling" doesn't begin to cover it. Other employees soon came forward with similar stories. Kalanick was blamed for fostering a bro-friendly atmosphere where sexual harassment and homophobia were always on tap.

Also in February, video surfaced of Kalanick berating an Uber driver. It was neither pretty or dignified.

Around the same time, Uber became embroiled in a very messy, very public lawsuit with Waymo (formerly Google's self-driving car project) over trade secrets that an Uber employee seems to have stolen. For months, Kalanick stood by that employee, Anthony Levandowski, until he finally fired the man a couple of weeks ago.

In March, one of Uber's self-driving cars was involved in a fairly serious accident. Uber probably wasn't surprised by the crash, given that its autonomous software reportedly fails about once a mile, but the company did briefly put the self-driving car program on hiatus. 

In April, Uber was sued by Lyft for using a program code-named "Hell" (not kidding) that at the very least may have violated Lyft drivers' privacy and at worst could've violated laws around competitive business practices. 

In May, we learned that Uber is under federal investigation for use of a program called "Greyball" that helped it operate in cities where it wasn't yet authorized to do so.

Last week, Kalanick took a leave of absence. He told employees that the temporary departure was to grieve for his mother, who had died suddenly in a boating accident a few weeks earlier.

While that's certainly a legitimate reason for taking a break, the timing of the absence struck some as curious, as it coincided with the arrival of a report from the law firm of Covington & Burling. That report marked the end of an investigation into Uber's corporate culture, which was launched following the publication of the blog post from a former Uber employee mentioned above. The report found Uber's culture lacking, to say the least, and laid some of the blame on Kalanick himself.

Yesterday, five of Uber's major investors who control roughly 40 percent of the company's shares delivered a letter to Kalanick in Chicago. Entitled "Moving Uber Forward," the letter demanded major changes, including that Kalanick resign as CEO immediately.

In the wake of all that had happened before, it became apparent to Kalanick that he'd lost the confidence of both the public and his investors. Later in the day, he issued a statement that confirmed his resignation. He'll remain on Uber's board of directors.

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