Uber CEO is seeking a 'peer' to help him run the company

Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick, who last week pledged to get “leadership help” after a video surfaced of him berating one of the company’s drivers, announced Tuesday that the ride-hailing giant is looking for a chief operating officer.

Kalanick announced the executive search in a brief statement that read: “This morning I told the Uber team that we’re actively looking for a Chief Operating Officer: a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey.”

The statement comes a week after Bloomberg News released a dashcam video showing Kalanick arguing with driver Fawzi Kamel over Uber’s fares, which Kamel complained were too low.

Toward the end of their exchange, the video shows Kalanick losing his temper. “You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own ….,” he says, using a vulgarity. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”

After the video became public, Kalanick issued an apology to all Uber employees, saying he was ashamed. “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” the 40-year-old executive said. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

The report of Kalanick’s encounter with Kamel was part of a string of negative news stories about the San Francisco-based company.

Secret program

On Friday, it was revealed that Uber has been wielding a secret weapon to thwart authorities who have been trying to curtail or shut down its ride-hailing service.

The program included a feature nicknamed “Greyball” that identified regulators who were posing as riders while trying to collect evidence that Uber's service was breaking local laws governing taxis, the New York Times reported.

To stymie those efforts, Uber served up a fake version of its app to make it appear the undercover regulators were summoning a car, only to have the ride canceled. The San Francisco company mined the data that it collects through its real app to pinpoint the undercover agents.

Uber acknowledged it has used Greyball to counter regulators working with the company's opponents to entrap its drivers, saying Greyball was part of a broader program it developed to protect itself and its drivers from “fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service.”

Read more: Uber's self-inflicted controversies come at a price: public loyalty »

Abrupt exit

Uber’s senior vice president of engineering reportedly was asked to leave last week, just five weeks after Uber announced his hiring.

Kalanick sought Amit Singhal’s resignation after learning that Singhal had failed to disclose that there was a sexual harassment claim against him at his previous job at Google, Recode reported. Singhal said in a statement that he did not condone nor had he ever committed harassment and that the decision to leave Google was his own.

Waymo lawsuit

Waymo — a self-driving car project owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. — sued Uber last month, alleging theft of trade secrets. That’s a big deal, since Uber has pegged its future to self-driving vehicles.

The Waymo suit alleges that former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary files shortly before his resignation in January 2016. He went on to found self-driving truck start-up Otto, which was acquired by Uber in August for $680 million. Levandowski now heads Uber’s self-driving car division.

Waymo alleges Otto is using its proprietary technology. In addition to punitive damages, Waymo is expected to soon seek a preliminary injunction against Uber to stop the company from continuing development on self-driving cars.

Uber said it had “reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor, and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court. In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.”

Read more: Google spinoff Waymo accuses Uber of self-driving car theft »

Sexual harassment allegation

Former Uber employee Susan J. Fowler sent ripples through the tech industry last month when she alleged on her personal blog that she had been sexually harassed while working for the company, that other female engineers had reported similar problems — some involving the same manager — and that Uber’s human resources department engaged in a systemic coverup.

Kalanick said in a memo to employees that the blog post was the first he’d heard of the incident. The company called in former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder to conduct an independent investigation.

Read more: Uber sexual harassment allegations are a warning for the tech industry and its 'rock star' culture »

Trump-related backlash

Some 200,000 users deleted the Uber app in late January to protest Kalanick’s perceived cooperation with the Trump administration, shortly after President Trump issued an executive order banning travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The boycott — along with the hashtag #DeleteUber — hit the company after it advertised that it was operating at New York’s Kennedy International Airport during a taxi strike protesting the executive order. Protesters also were upset that Kalanick was a member of a panel advising Trump on economic issues.

Kalanick soon promised that Uber would create a $3-million legal defense fund to help drivers affected by the travel ban. Within days, he quit the president’s advisory panel and slammed the travel ban in a memo to staffers.

Read more: Travis Kalanick quits Trump’s advisory council; Elon Musk will stay »

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

ALSO

Obamacare 101: What's in the House Republicans’ replacement plan

Snapchat maker's stock keeps falling — and analysts think it'll drop even more

At these movie theaters, kids can play on a jungle gym next to their parents' seats


UPDATES:

12:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background information.

This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
73°