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Uber boss may be removed

Business Report
UBER Technologies' board was to discuss chief executive Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company’s management practices at a meeting yesterday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The source said it is not clear that the board would make any decision to change Kalanick’s role. The board was expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm’s broader culture. Outside lawyers made no recommendation about Kalanick.

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FILE PHOTO - Uber CEO Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at IIT campus in Mumbai

The meeting, which Uber had not publicised, could be a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries, but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.

At yesterday's meeting, according to two people familiar with the matter, the seven voting members of Uber’s board, including Kalanick, were expected to vote on recommendations made by the law firm of former US Attorney-General Eric Holder, which conducted a review of the company’s policies and culture.

The review was launched in February after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a blog post detailing what she described as sexual harassment and the lack of a suitable response by senior managers. Fowler now works for digital payments company Stripe.

Uber’s board is likely to tell employees and the public of its decisions by tomorrow, one of the sources said.

An Uber spokesperson had no comment. Neither Kalanick nor Holder’s law firm, Covington & Burling, immediately responded to requests for comment on Saturday.

Kalanick has developed a reputation as an abrasive leader, and his approach has rubbed off on his company. The 40-year-old executive was captured on video in February berating an Uber driver.

Uber board member Arianna Huffington said in March that Kalanick needed to change his leadership style from that of a “scrappy entrepreneur” to be more like a “leader of a major global company.” The board has been looking for a chief operating officer to help Kalanick run the company since March.

The report was prepared by Holder and partner Tammy Albarrá* at Covington & Burling. It comes shortly after another law firm, Perkins Coie, submitted a separate report on sexual harassment and other employee concerns at the company.

On Tuesday, Uber responded to that report’s findings by saying it had fired 20 employees for a variety of reasons, and was increasing training and adopting new policies. Uber said that report considered 215 cases encompassing sexual harassment, discrimination, unprofessional behaviour, bullying and other employee complaints.

San Francisco-based Uber is valued at nearly $70billion (R903.62bn) but has yet to turn a profit.

Some of the recommendations in Holder’s firm’s report would force greater controls on spending, human resources and other areas where executives led by Kalanick have had a surprising amount of autonomy for a company with more than 12000 employees, one person familiar with the matter said. Uber’s more than 1.5million drivers worldwide are classified as independent contractors rather than employees.

Less clear is the fate of Kalanick, who with close allies has voting control of the company.  

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