Uber may enlist the former head of GE to combat its “brain drain”

August 24, 2017

Uber, which for months has been operating without a CEO following Travis Kalanick’s unceremonious exit, is considering former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, with a deal possibly in place as early as Labor Day, according to multiple reports.

The potential move comes after a period of turbulence for the California-based startup that has amounted to a so-called “brain drain.” In addition to Kalanick, Uber’s VPs of maps and business, engineering, and product and growth, as well as its artificial intelligence labs head, director of advanced technologies engineering, and a critical member of Uber’s effort to develop self-driving technologies have all left in 2017.

What Uber needs, in other words, is someone to stop the proverbial bleeding and whip the company into shape. Immelt recently stepped down after 16 years at the helm of GE. During his tenure, he led the transition from the successful reign of Jack Welch, and developed a reputation as someone who wouldn’t be swayed by individuals within the company.

In later years, Immelt oversaw GE’s sale of NBC, its appliance operations, and many of its capital assets—deals totaling in the tens of billions of dollars—as he sought to consolidate the multinational conglomerate into a more manageable group of operations. With Uber operating on four continents, maintaining partnerships with auto manufacturers, and its ongoing ambitions toward developing self-driving technologies, Immelt would appear to be an ideal choice to bring stability and focus to the reeling tech company.

However, there remains a question of whether a man coming from the 13th-ranked company in the Fortune 500 can fit the mold of a Silicon Valley technology executive. With Uber’s corporate culture coming into intense media scrutiny, however, it’s possible that board members are looking for the sort of buttoned-down professionalism that Immelt brings to the table.

Some point to Uber’s current financial situation as a reason to be leery of an Immelt hiring. Uber has been hemorrhaging money, and despite the many deals struck by Immelt, GE’s stock market performance was lackluster under his stewardship. Whether short term profitability takes precedence over Uber’s long-term direction and personnel decisions is at the crux of the important decision the board is about to make.

-- by Aaron Miller

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