MM Awards

Uber's president steps down after just six months as troubles continue

Tim Maytom

Uber’s second-in-command, president Jeff Jones, is departing the ride-hailing company after less than six months, in a shocking and unexpected move that continues the controversial firm’s recent run of trouble, which has included a lawsuit from Google, accusations of sexual harassment and pressure on CEO Travis Kalanick over his close relationship with the Trump administration.

Jones’ resignation will come into effect immediately, and has sent ripples through the company. There are a number of differing accounts on the motivation behind his departure; sources speaking to the BBC suggest that the “completely unexpected” move came as a result of not being considered for the role of chief operating officer, while Recode claims Jones left because of Uber’s continuing public struggle over issues surrounding sexism and sexual harassment.

“I joined Uber because of its mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long-term,” said Jones in a statement made to Recode. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.”

A note to staff from Kalanick regarding Jones’ departure was leaked shortly after news broke, with Kalanick celebrating Jones’ impact on the company during his short tenure. “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber,” wrote Kalanick to Uber employees. “It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly.”

Uber was brief in its public statement on Sunday, with a spokesperson saying “we want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best.” However, the company is reportedly reeling from his sudden departure, with other executives disappointed over what they saw as a lack of professional courtesy from Jones when it came to informing them of his intentions.

Jones is not the only executive leaving the company. Brian McClendon, vice president of maps and business platform, also plans to leave at the end of the month, although his departure is notably more amicable than Jones’, having been in the works for a while. However, the two departures are simply the latest in a wave of executives jumping ship from the ride-hailing firm.

Last week, Raffi Krikorian, a director in Uber’s self-driving division, announced he was leaving, while earlier this month, Gary Marcus, co-director in Uber’s in-house AI research arm, departed the company less than four months after joining, having come aboard when Uber acquired his startup Geometric Intelligence in December. At the beginning of March, Ed Baker, another senior executive, tendered his resignation, while at the end of February, Amit Singhal, a top engineer at the company, was asked to resign when it emerged he had failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him at his previous employer.

Even ignoring the spate of resignations and departures, Uber has had a troubled 2017 so far, with CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick frequently at the centre of controversy. The company has been accused of a having a culture of sexism and sexual harassment, with the number of women employees dropping rapidly due to persistent problems while upper management engaged in “game-of-thrones political war”. Kalanick was filmed arguing with an Uber driver over falling rates of pay, and shortly afterwards admitted he needed “leadership help” and was seeking to employ a chief operating officer.

While the search for the COO continues, speculation is rife that whoever is appointed my end up taking over from Kalanick in a move designed to assuage investor doubts ahead of the company’s long-awaited IPO. However, given Kalanick’s high profile and position as co-founder of the firm, any move by the board to unseat him could lead to more turmoil in Uber’s upper ranks.