Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the company, as Uber's recent upheaval has far overshadowed any developments in its driverless initiative during the past few days.
While Kalanick cited his mother's recent accidental death as the reason for his exit, the company announced it was making changes to address workplace environment issues on the same day.
The past year has been a trying time for Uber. In February, Susan Fowler — a former engineer at Uber — published a blog in which she claimed that she was discriminated against and sexually harassed by her superior. In response to her complaints, she stated the company did essentially nothing to help her. Upon discovering these allegations. Kalanick hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran to investigate. The law firm Perkins Coie also investigated the company's culture, and their findings led to the recent termination of 20 Uber employees.
In addition to the termination of employees, Uber has been shaken by the exit of 14 executives since the sexual harassment investigation began. Among those who have left the company are Jeff Jones — the former president of Uber — and Emil Michael, once a member of the group of executives referred to by Kalanick as his "A-Team". The executives were also seen as being highly instrumental to Uber's early success.
It was also revealed last year that a Uber engineer was accused of stealing intellectual property from Waymo, the driverless division of Google parent Alphabet, relating to Waymo's driverless car program. Google filed a lawsuit against Uber stemming from its claims, which have yet to be resolved.
Kalanick said earlier this year he felt a need to grow as a leader. In the email he sent to employees announcing his leave of absence today, he reiterated this sentiment.
The ultimate responsibility, for where we've gotten and how we've gotten here rests on my shoulders. There is of course much to be proud of but there is much to improve. For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team. But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.
Little is known about what Kalanick's role will be upon returning to the company. His leadership team will take over in his absence, but the company is now lacking a COO, CMO, CFO, and president. Meanwhile, the ride-sharing giant's future as a company remains uncertain, while the existence of its driverless program remains under threat as Waymo presses ahead with its lawsuit.