Uber is a management mess. Whether charges of widespread sexual harassment, being the defendant in lawsuits brought by contract drivers and even a Google spin-off, or getting into regular trouble with authorities (some of which might actually cross legal bounds), things are so bad that employees are reportedly readying their resumes and getting ready to jump ship.
In a way, the response of CEO Travis Kalanick to a video showing him upbraid an Uber driver for daring to question the company's strategy was the most telling. He left the driver a one-star rating, according to Bloomberg, which could affect the man's ongoing opportunities and earnings. But only after the Bloomberg story, with video, hit the Internet did Kalanick email employees with a "profound apology" and said it was the "first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."
The Information reported that Kalanick is looking for a number two to help with management for the first time since the company started in 2009. After $8.81 billion in investment, you'd think it was about time. Succession is a major duty of any chief executive. What if Kalanick was run over by a bus? Or an irate Uber driver?
Pushing Kalanick is a tough notion, as he and two associates control a majority of shareholder votes. All the entities and people who invested those billions of dollars, expecting a major payoff (as of 2015, Uber was losing billions) could band together and still not force him out. But if they could, or if Kalanick realized that an executive 12-step course probably wouldn't be enough at this point, here are some CEOs who would be good choices for stepping in -- if they didn't find the current reputational mess and financial realities too off-putting to leave their current enterprises.
Burns was a one-company woman, starting at Xerox as an intern in 1980 and working her way through the company to become the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500. She has major experience in handling large organizations, has a background in running a large manufacturing operation (important if Uber continues down the self-driving vehicle route). Burns helped turn the company around and become profitable with a future. She's got a great public persona, is a technologist by training, and her gender would add credibility to resolving the sexual harassment problem.
Another woman, another mega-corporation. Although it happened before Nooyi's time, PepsiCo had to deal with the EEOC on a sexual harassment settlement. That type of mistake generally makes a company tighten up its culture, and she could bring the institutional knowledge to Uber. Beyond her obvious ability to run a multi-national corporation, she's overseen major acquisitions and served in the company as CFO and in strategic planning positions. Moreover, Nooyi has experience building out new business directions (healthy snacks and drinks), understands a consumer-centric business model, and also understands working directly and indirectly with business partners.
Yes, the former CEO of Microsoft. Although he's been the target of a lot of criticism over the years, he was responsible to start Microsoft, albeit late, into cloud computing and mobile devices. He's got deep experience in working with regulatory restraints and a dual focus on both consumer and business orientations. Although his entire history before buying and running the LA Clippers was really Microsoft, he started at an entrepreneurial level and helped make the company something larger than anyone had a reasonable right to expect. His enthusiasm is enormous and he understands how to work with the rest of the tech industry.
There's something to be said for a CEO who seems measured and mature, and that would describe Levie. He's thoroughly an entrepreneur, who helped build Box with an $80,000 seed round in 2004. For some time the company was burning through cash at a proportionate rate (if not absolute number) even faster than Uber. He took Box public, a good base of experience for where Uber will have to go eventually, and built success on a long-term strategic plan. A relatively low customer churn rate shows that he has strength in enabling a service-centric approach to business. Importantly, he's also navigated the waters of a "commodity" service with many other options for the public.
Chase is one of the original innovators in shared transportation. The graduate of Wellesley and MIT's Sloan School was one of the co-founders and former CEO of Zipcar, which was acquired by Avis. She is also the former CEO of another peer-to-peer car sharing service, Buzzcar, which was also acquired. Currently, she's at Veniam, which is working on building large Wi-Fi meshes using moving vehicles. Chase has come back from big mistakes and knows from experience how to accept responsibility for problems and fix them.