What does Uber have to lose if they fire Travis Kalanick (Feb 2017)? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Right now Uber operates in 450 cities ... with each market being at a different stage of maturity, profitability (or not), etc. Uber has some unknown billions of dollars with which to support further growth, but not infinite money. The open secret of Uber's breakneck growth (and big losses) is that the company has figured out how to get into the black in its best markets -- but is reinvesting all those profits and a heck of a lot of investor cash into its newer/weaker markets in hopes of conquering much of the globe before the money runs out.
Anyone running Uber needs a fingertip grasp of how to keep this thrilling but precarious strategy on track, market by market. That means a smart CEO needs to know what an ultimately successful local market looks like -- long before the numbers turn positive -- and have the guts to keep pushing ahead, even if the numbers remain bad for a while. The smart CEO also needs to know what a doomed local market looks like, and to be able to manage those failures so they remain small failures and do not destroy the whole company. (Webvan is your cautionary tale on that one.)
Get rid of Travis Kalanick as CEO, and you lose the ability to have all that knowledge inside one person's head. It's pretty much impossible to expect an outsider to know how all the levers work. Turning a newcomer loose as a new CEO is an invitation to all sorts of timing errors that could retard growth, deepen losses and put the company's success in peril. Promoting a current insider might work, but it might not.
Let's not forget that Kalanick also has unique insights about how hard individual managers can be pushed; who is chronically over-optimistic; who lowballs his/her numbers and deadlines, etc. It's not enough to make the model work on a spreadsheet; you need to succeed with the people you've got, or make smart decisions about how to realign your management team.
If Kalanick's conduct issues keep getting worse, then at some point, the board has no choice. Everyone has a different opinion about whether he's already crossed that line, is at risk of crossing that line, or is not much different than many hard-charging CEOs. I'm not taking sides on that one.
Still, it doesn't appear as if there's a strong internal candidate to take over. And bringing in an outsider would greatly increase the risk of operational and strategic mistakes at all levels. Switching CEOs at a fast-moving tech company is risky even when there's plenty of time to coordinate everything. Making such decisions in a hurry -- even when the circumstances are compelling -- often creates big dislocations without any guarantee that it will all get better.
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