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Travis Kalanick is out as Uber's CEO. He resigned last night under pressure from investors. Kalanick helped start the ride hailing company. On his watch, it saw phenomenal business growth, and it changed the transportation industry. Under Kalanick, it also developed a culture in which sexual harassment was tolerated and accusations of unethical business practices were routine. NPR's Aarti Shahani has more.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Travis Kalanick is a strong personality, a polarizing figure. Last Friday, which is before his abrupt resignation, NPR asked an early Uber investor named Jason Calacanis what he thought of the CEO.
JASON CALACANIS: Indefatigable, phenomenal, unlimited upside.
SHAHANI: Unlimited upside.
CALACANIS: Unlimited upside. I think he'll, you know - he has another 20, 30 years ahead of him as founder. And I think...
SHAHANI: Oh, wow.
CALACANIS: ...The company can grow 10-X (ph) from here, 20-X (ph) from here. I think he's going to wind up being one of the top 10 CEOs that Silicon Valley's ever seen.
SHAHANI: Others disagree with that ringing endorsement, and now Kalanick is out. Notably, he and his close allies have majority voting shares in the company, which means he could have fought it. He's known for not caving. But here, he did cave under tremendous pressure from powerful Silicon Valley investors.
The move comes as a surprise to employees and people close to the company. Just seven days earlier, Kalanick announced he was taking a temporary leave of absence, not a permanent one. One person has a theory about what happened in the interim - Douglas Wigdor.
DOUGLAS WIGDOR: The only thing that changed between him going on leave and resigning was us filing this lawsuit that directly implicates him and really shows what he was up to and what he was willing to do with respect to a legitimate rape victim.
SHAHANI: Wigdor's firm represents a woman who was raped by her Uber driver in India. Kalanick's team allegedly dug into her private medical records in an effort to discredit her even though a court convicted the driver. Last Thursday, Wigdor filed a high-profile lawsuit naming Kalanick as the defendant, charging that the chief defamed and violated the privacy rights of the rape victim.
WIGDOR: It's pretty obvious to me that this was the last nail in the coffin.
SHAHANI: NPR reached out to 10 Uber board members and top investors to ask about the reasons for Kalanick's resignation. Two declined interviews, and others did not respond. He did not leave because of a conflict over business strategy. He left because of a deep concern about cultural problems at the company and his inability to fix those problems.
Valerie Demont, a lawyer who represents companies that are restructuring with the firm Pepper Hamilton, points out Uber is missing several senior leaders. People left, which is a reflection on Kalanick's ability to pick and retain talent.
VALERIE DEMONT: Clearly there was a terrible workplace culture, terrible enough for a lot of these people who are highly competent individuals to want to go.
SHAHANI: It's hard to know which of the many examples from Silicon Valley history to pull from at this moment. Is the Uber chief's departure more like when Yahoo's founder left or more like when Steve Jobs was forced to leave Apple but then made a comeback and singularly defined that company? Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who teaches leadership at Harvard Business School, doubts that Kalanick is indispensable.
ROSABETH MOSS KANTER: What Uber is to its consumers is - Uber is whatever driver they get. Uber is the app on their smartphone. Uber is not Travis. Most people probably can't even pronounce his last name, let alone know who he is.
SHAHANI: She'd like to know who's heading the search for a new CEO and if Kalanick, who will remain on the board of directors, will have veto power. She says it's important to keep him feeling good. Though she points out he has been the face of the problem.
KANTER: He's not the spokesperson for Uber. In fact as he spoke about Uber, he sometimes put his foot in his mouth.
SHAHANI: Uber did not respond to NPR's request for details about Kalanick's role on the board, how long his term is and what his duties will be. The company has a stunning list of positions it has to fill. In addition to a new CEO, Uber needs a chief operating officer, general counsel, senior vice president of engineering, chief marketing officer and board chair. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.
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