Today Uber announced that its president Jeff Jones is leaving after only six months. Previously he headed marketing at Target. Lots of things went haywire on his watch. But Bloomberg notes that most of it was not under his control.
Travis Kalanick's search for a chief operating officer was perceived as a demotion for Jones. So, in a sense, he had to head for an exit ramp.
Career reversals like that happen all the time, of course.
Top performers are hired at the worst of times or when the company first faces headwinds. They can't halt the downward trajectory.
An analogue might have been the hiring at Apple, which was going to encounter new challenges, of consumer products executive John Sculley. He fired Steve Jobs, then he himself was fired. Since then, Sculley's legacy has remained tarnished.
The same fate - a badly damaged brandname - may await Uber's head Kalanick. The pile-up of diverse kinds of troubles may be too much for any team to turn around.
The company could fold,
For example, the competition is getting stronger.
It suffered a revenue loss, big time, last year. And unlike Amazon, it might not be able to land on its feet after investing in massive growth.
Its driverless car, which was positioned as its salvation from labor woes, can't operate without a human driver. In California it even ran a red light.
In addition, the movement #deleteuber could succeed. And the world will erase its digital memory of Uber.
Needless to say it is dealing with myriad lawsuits. Currently it hired a law firm to investigate its allegedly toxic culture.
However, it is misguided to finger Kalanick's leadership style as the underlying root cause.
That style has been called combative. Had the startup begun to make money for investors, all else might have been forgiven. Corporate leaders ranging from Lee Iacocca to Jobs had also been combative. But their leadership had been success stories. So their legacy is positive.
What Kalanick needs to validate his leadership style is a string of big successes. The company has to stop losing money. The driverless car venture has to show progress. Strategies have to be developed to bypass the competitive threats. And it needs to rebrand.
If Kalanick falls he may never be able to get back up to redeem himself elsewhere. That's just the way it goes most of the time. He could become The Sculley of the Sharing Economy.
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