Uber's come a long way in just two years.

In 2017, founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was reeling from a series of crises--culminating in a massively viral blog post that detailed one engineer's experience of sexual harassment and Machiavellian politics within the company. 

Further, the company's "grow-at-all-costs" mindset pit it in a direct fight with regulators, who weren't sure how to address the rapidly evolving world of ride sharing. The confrontational strategy led to Uber's developing a poor reputation and numerous setbacks.

But in 2017, Kalanick was pushed out of his role as CEO. Former Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi took over the reins, and immediately began instituting major change. "What got us here is not what's going to get us to the next level," Khosrowshahi told employees at his first all-hands meeting.

Fast forward to today, and Uber's on a roll. 

As it prepares to go public, the company claims it holds over 65% of the ride share market in the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Latin America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, Khosrowshahi holds a 94% CEO approval rating on Glassdoor. Employee reviews lead with headlines like "Uber 2.0 is a great place to work," "Best job I've had," and "Ignore the old reviews."

So, how did Uber do it?

I just watched the company's 30-minute IPO presentation, and it's clear that the "new Uber" is operating under a completely different strategy. It's done so by focusing on the single key ingredient for successful companies:

Building trust.

Here are three ways the company has built--and is continuing to build--trust with key stakeholders:

1. Consumers.

Uber grew rapidly popular because it solved a problem and did it well--providing convenient and reliable transportation at relatively low cost. 

However, after a few high-profile incidents--including one which involved a driver who randomly shot and killed six people while continuing to pick up and drop off passengers--Uber knew it needed to place a higher priority on safety. They instituted tighter background checks and even a panic button that directly calls 911.

"Uber strives to provide the safest and most dependable mobility platform out there," says Khosrowshahi. The result? An experience that "builds trust and loyalty."

2. Regulators.

One of the first things Khosrowshahi did when he took over was to encourage a kindler, gentler approach when working with regulators.

For example, after officials in London announced that they would not be renewing Uber's license to operate in the city, Khosrowshahi wrote a remarkable companywide email. 

"While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I've learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection," Khosrowshahi wrote. "The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation...it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another."

Khosrowshahi's method seemed to work: In a dramatic turn of events, not only was Uber awarded with a 15-month permit granting them a license to operate last June, it survived London cab drivers' recent legal challenge of that permit.

"We are committed to ensuring strong and collaborative relationships with governments, regulators, and cities," says Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer and secretary. "Because we know that when cities succeed, we succeed."

3. Potential investors.

Of course, Uber needed to also address the future of ridesharing: autonomous driving. But it's chosen to do so in a realistic, measured way.

According to Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, the company has completed tens of thousands of passenger trips using autonomous driving tech, and has collected data from millions of testing miles. 

Yet, Meyhofer acknowledged the limitations of autonomous driving and said he believes that "there will be a long phase of hybrid autonomy, where autonomous vehicles will be gradually deployed...while drivers will continue to serve most of the consumer demand."

Contrast that with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who just two weeks ago said that by "next year for sure, we will have over 1 million robo-taxis on the road."

By presenting a balanced, nuanced view of autonomous driving, Uber paints the picture of huge potential growth--while laying the foundation for investor trust at the same time.

Of course, the new Uber's still finding its way. Another test will be how it handles Uber drivers' rush-hour strike planned in multiple cities for today.

But these are just a few examples of how Uber has used emotional intelligence to build trust and turn things around in a very short period of time.

Because moving fast and breaking things may be a path to growth. But trust will take you a whole lot further.

Published on: May 8, 2019
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