An Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.
Early reported indicated that the pedestrian was crossing a roadway after dark, outside a crosswalk, and that Uber would probably be deemed not at fault in this incident.
But reviewing crash video, multiple concerns arose. For one, Uber’s onboard staff person — supposed to take over in case of system problems — was looking down or sideways, hence unable to see the pedestrian. Two, the pedestrian was making steady across the roadway. Three, some experts said a standard automatic emergency braking system, even on ordinary commercial vehicles, would have been able to detect the pedestrian and at least apply the brakes.
Business Insider reported that Eric Holder’s report recommended that Uber’s SVP of Business, Emil Michael, leave the company. BI noted that this recommendation was, for whatever reason, not included in the version of the Holder report available to the public. But, consistent with BI’s reporting, Michael left Uber in June 2017.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had been especially close to Michael. BI characterized Michael as Kalanick’s “wingman.”
After credit card processors were ordered not to process payments for Uber in Argentina, Uber found a workaround. In particular, Uber encouraged Argentinian users to get credit cards from Xapo, a startup that issues credit cards that draw funds from a customer’s Bitcoins. Xapo issued cards out of Gibraltar and thus escaped the Argentinian injunction that targeted local credit card issuers.
Uber was found to be unlawful in Argentina, including for operating without a permit or tax-identification number.
A series of injunctions ordered the company to cease operations, and ordered telecommunications vendors and payment processors to cease supporting Uber. The Stanford Center for Internet & Society explained:
Shortly thereafter, a criminal prosecutor from the City of Buenos Aires issued an injunction ordering ENACOM (Argentina’s FCC) to block the UberApp. Apparently, ENACOM refused to comply with the injunction arguing that a local prosecutor was not a competent authority to order such a measure. On April 22, a criminal judge from the City of Buenos Aires ordered ENACOM to block Uber within the City of Buenos Aires jurisdictional limits. It is not clear whether ENACOM, a federal agency, will comply with a City of Buenos Aires order. Content circulation through communications networks is a federal matter in Argentina, which is supposedly beyond the reach of local government jurisdiction.
Finally, the Consumers Protection Agency of the City of Buenos Aires—an administrative agency—issued an injunction ordering telecoms to block the App and credit card companies to block any transaction related to the App. The injunction was issued against telecoms and credit cards as “contributors” to an allegedly harmful activity. A few days later, also a judge in Buenos Aires ordered credit card companies to cease their operations with Uber.
Nonetheless Uber continued operations, including encouraging Argentina users to pay via a Bitcoin-backed credit card.
Benchmark Capital general partner Bill Gurley and Travis Kalanick started off thinking highly of each other and working closely, but their relationship deteriorated. Business Insider offers details:
Initially, Gurley saw Kalanick as young and inexperienced, needing guidance and not always listening to advice. Gurley pressed Kalanick to find a mentor and hire an experienced CFO. Later, Gurley wanted Kalanick to stop losing so much money, reduce growth plans, and increase profits.
BI describes Kalanick’s response:
Kalanick, meanwhile, began to see Gurley as a drama-filled drag, perpetually appearing on CNBC to whine about a possible tech bubble. He pushed communications with Gurley off to his wingman, Michael; it was a cold-shoulder strategy Kalanick had used with others, including Whetstone, when he felt he didn’t need them anymore.
Eventually, Gurley worried that his investment in Uber could be worthless. Worried about Uber’s culture and the many lawsuits and government investigations, he said he had trouble sleeping; he gained weight and took up yoga. His concerns reflected worries about both his own investment and funds from Benchmark’s other partners and investors.
After Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick and colleagues visited an escort bar and tried to cover it up when asked, one person who had been there contacted Rachel Whetstone, then Uber’s senior vice-president of communications and public policy, seeking guidance. Whetstone in turn reported the matter to Uber’s attorneys, who turned it over to Eric Holder, who was at the time investigating possible improprieties at Uber.
Business Insider described Kalanick’s response:
Kalanick was not pleased. As his head of PR, he felt Whetstone was supposed to be defending the company from stories like these, not be part of them.
BI continued, explaining how some at Uber saw Whetstone as “difficult to work with … or even irrational,” but others saw her “speaking truth to power”:
One employee described her as “intellectually honest.” Whetstone was already rich from her years at Google and wasn’t under the spell of potential wealth, which drove other top players at Uber. “That made her feel like she could speak truth to power with Travis,” a former executive said. “She wasn’t part of the group of yes-men who would never disagree with him.”
For her part, Whetstone had become disillusioned with Uber. In her role as a powerful woman in the company, she was someone who many troubled employees and other insiders felt comfortable venting to. As these people shared stories with her, Whetstone began to see Uber differently. She became angry.
She saw a company that needed to grow up, but that under Kalanick wouldn’t.
Ultimately Whetstone resigned and Kalanick accepted her resignation. BI reports that Whetstone’s exit package included millions of dollars worth of stock as well as keeping Whetstone on as a consultant to save face.
Jeff Jones quit Uber in March 2017 after less than a year as President of the company. He explained his departure in a statement:
It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president.
Jones had previously served as the Chief Marketing Officer at Target.
Commenting on Jones’ departure, then-CEO Travis Kalanick remarked that “It is unfortunate that [Jones’ departure] was announced through the press.”
Ed Baker, who served as Uber’s VP of Product and Growth, resigned after more than three years at Uber. Others at Uber had complained about his behavior. Recode explained:
For example, one person anonymously tipped off board member Arianna Huffington — who is one of the people conducting a wider-ranging investigation into sexism and sexual harassment at the company — via an email that Baker had engaged in a sexual encounter with another employee.
Specifically, said sources, Baker was seen “making out” at an internal Uber event held in Miami three years ago, which was seen by some employees. There was no suggestion of any sexual harassment on his part and the encounter was apparently consensual.
Amit Sighal joined Uber in January 2017 as SVP of Engineering. The next month, Uber asked him to leave. The stated reason was that he reportedly failed to disclose to Uber a “credible” sexual harassment allegation made against him while at Google.
Sighal had previously worked at Google where he was a “Google Fellow” (a prestigious and limited position) and served as the head of Google’s core search ranking team. Some speculated that he left Google due to the same sexual harassment allegation that caused concern at Uber.
Details from Quartz
Business Insider reports that as Eric Holder investigated activities at Uber, employee morale dropped. His investigation included interviewing employees and reading through emails and chat records. BI says morale was “went from low to ‘rock bottom'” quoting one former executive, who added that “People were confused, disappointed, angry.”