Home TECH & SCIENCE Everything you need to know about Uber’s tumultuous 2017

Everything you need to know about Uber’s tumultuous 2017

Keep up with Recode’s continually updated turn-by-turn timeline.

For most of the year to date, Uber and President Donald Trump often seem to be in competition for the scandal of the day. Sometimes Uber has been in the news because of its ties to the president; at other times, it was because of its own internal culture. At the moment, Uber is making headlines mostly because of a mess at the executive level, as the company searches for a replacement for ousted CEO Travis Kalanick and deals with myriad lawsuits.

To help you keep up, here’s a timeline of everything Uber has been through in the past year.

January 28: The first #deleteUber movement

Uber faced a lot of misdirected criticism for turning off its surge pricing while taxi drivers protested President Trumps’s travel ban at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. People accused the company of trying to profit off the backs of the taxi drivers by taking advantage of the demand for rides. The company saw some 400,000 account deletions, while rival Lyft saw a 60 percent increase in new users, Lyft head of product Taggart Matthiessen told Recode.

February 2: Travis Kalanick steps off Trump’s advisory council

Kalanick, then Uber’s CEO, was also facing criticism because he agreed to be on Trump’s advisory council, particularly after the president attempted to enact the travel ban. Kalanick quickly announced to employees that he was stepping away from the council.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” wrote Kalanick. “There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that.”

February 19: Susan Fowler publishes her damning look into Uber’s cultural problems

Fowler’s whistle-blowing essay set into motion a series of events that eventually led to the ouster of Kalanick and many other tectonic developments that have essentially reshaped the company. Her essay detailed a year of working at Uber as an engineer that was wrought with sexual harassment and sexism. That started the second #deleteUber movement. Uber reacted immediately and said it would launch an investigation into Fowler’s claims, and that it had hired former Attorney General Eric Holder’s law firm to conduct the investigation. We looked into how the company’s focus on growth got it into this human resources mess in the first place.

February 23: Early Uber investors Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein speak out against Uber’s toxic culture

Mainstays of Silicon Valley, the investors specifically criticized Uber’s decision to hire a group of insiders to conduct the investigation into Fowler’s claims — specifically Eric Holder and board member Arianna Huffington.

“Eric Holder has been working on behalf of Uber since at least last June, when he and his firm were hired to advocate on behalf of Uber to lawmakers concerning using fingerprints as part of background checks on drivers,” they wrote. “Arianna Huffington has held a board seat for about a year and is deeply invested in the company weathering the PR crisis. As the company’s Chief Human Resources officer, Liane Hornsey reports to Travis’ executive team.”

“To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct,” they continued.

February 23: One of Uber’s top self-driving engineers Raffi Krikorian steps down

Krikorian was one in a series of departures from the company’s self-driving team. Before him, Brett Browning, Drew Bagnell and Peter Rander — all of whom were poached from Carnegie Mellon — left the company, as Recode first reported. Rander went on to launch a self-driving startup called Argo.ai alongside Google self-driving engineer Brian Salesky; Ford rather quickly acquired a majority stake in it.

As we reported in detail, these departures were a symptom of a larger issue within Uber’s self-driving department. Many sources attributed the beginnings of the problems to the acquisition of self-driving startup Otto, which put former Google executive Anthony Levandowski at the helm.

February 24: Fowler says several of her friends had been contacted by investigators seeking personal information about her.

Uber said it wasn’t involved.

February 24: Alphabet files a lawsuit against Uber claiming that thenUber executive Anthony Levandowski stole key self-driving documents.

In the ongoing lawsuit, Alphabet claims Levandowski — who has now been fired — downloaded 14,000 files before leaving the company. Weeks later, Levandowski founded self-driving-truck startup Otto, which Uber later acquired. Uber disputes the claims, and alleges that the company was simply trying to slow down competition.

 Waymo, Uber

February 27: Uber’s SVP of Engineering Amit Singhal was asked to resign

Kalanick asked Singhal to step down from his role, which he was hired into a little more than a month prior, for not disclosing that he was at the center of a sexual harassment allegation at his previous employer. Singhal left Google after 15 years in early 2016.

February 28: A video of Kalanick berating an Uber driver surfaces.

In response to the video, Kalanick says he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” In a staff email, which the company also published on its blog, Kalanick wrote that he needs to “grow up.”

“This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it,” he wrote.

March 2: Fowler hires her own law firm, Uber hires a second law firm to help with investigation

Uber hired Perkins Coie to help Covington & Burling investigate individual claims within the company. In response, Fowler hired law firm Baker Curtis & Schwartz — which specializes in employment law — after learning that Uber hired a second law firm to investigate her claims.

March 3: Uber’s VP of Product and Growth Ed Baker resigns

Baker resigned from the company after three years. The former Facebook exec wrote: “I have always wanted to apply my experience in technology and growth to the public sector. And now seems like the right moment to get involved.”

His resignation also came at a time when Uber employees complained about questionable behavior on his part.

For example, via an email, one person anonymously tipped off board member Arianna Huffington — one of the people conducting a wider-ranging investigation into sexism and sexual harassment at the company — that Baker had engaged in a sexual encounter with another employee.

March 7: Kalanick begins a search for a second-in-command

Kalanick started his search for a COO, or as he described him/her, “a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey.”

 Josiah Kamau / BuzzFoto via Getty Images
Now former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

March 10: Alphabet files an injunction against Uber

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving project, asked a judge to stop Uber from using what it believes is stolen intellectual property as part of its lawsuit.

March 19: Uber President Jeff Jones resigns

If you’re keeping count, this is the third major resignation in 2017. Ex-Target CMO Jones quit after six months, citing differences over “beliefs and approach to leadership.”

March 20: Uber’s Vice President of Mapping Brian McClendon resigns

McClendon announced that he was leaving the company “amicably” after close to two years. McClendon is among the executives named in Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber. In a sworn testimony, an Alphabet engineer said Levandowski told him that he had met with McClendon and discussed Uber’s interest in working with him.

March 21: Uber says it had its best week ever despite the internal turmoil

In a call meant to update reporters on its investigation and search for a COO, the ride-hail company said it saw more rides on its platform in the U.S. last week than it ever has before.

“In fact, in our most mature country, we’ve grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016,” head of business in the U.S. and Canada Rachel Holt said. “Looking at less-mature regions like Latin America, trips were up 600 percent in February, year on year.” The company wouldn’t disclose specific numbers.

March 28: Uber publishes its diversity numbers for the first time ever

As we reported in this deep look into Uber’s human resources mess, Kalanick himself opposed collecting — much less publishing — the company’s diversity statistics. But in response to Fowler’s claims of sexism, Uber decided to finally make these numbers public. The statistics themselves stacked up to the rest of the tech industry, which isn’t great.


April 6: If you think Alphabet’s lawsuit is at a standstill at this point, you’re wrong

Here are the material updates on the lawsuit up until that point — including that Levandowski had asserted his Fifth Amendment rights. Spoiler alert: This does not bode well for his employment at Uber.

April 27: Levandowski steps away from his role as head of Uber’s self-driving department

Levandowski announced that he was recusing himself from his role for the duration of the Alphabet litigation, and handing over the reins to then second-in-command at the self-driving department, Eric Meyhofer.

May 4: The U.S. Justice Department launches an investigation into Uber’s use of its “greyball” software

As The New York Times reported, Uber had been using a software called “greyball” to evade regulators, and it turns out that regulators don’t take kindly to that.

May 11: A judge denies Uber’s request to send its legal dispute with Alphabet to arbitration

The trial for Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber is scheduled for October.

May 19: Uber pressures Levandowski to comply with the lawsuit

Uber officially asked Anthony Levandowski — the former head of the company’s self-driving efforts and the executive at the center of the Alphabet lawsuit — to waive his Fifth Amendment rights and cooperate with a court’s order to turn over any files he may have downloaded, including those on his personal device. If he doesn’t, the company’s general counsel wrote in a letter, he’ll be terminated.

May 30: Uber fires Levandowski for not cooperating in the case

Turns out Uber was serious. Eric Meyhofer officially takes over the self-driving department.

Former head of Uber’s self-driving department Anthony Levandowski

May 31: Uber’s head of finance leaves the company

Gautam Gupta, the company’s highest-ranking finance officer, steps down from his role to join another tech company. Reminder: Uber never replaced its CFO, Brent Callinicos, who stepped down in 2015.

June 5: Uber hires Harvard Business School academic Frances Frei to head up leadership and strategy

Frei joined the company as SVP of Leadership and Strategy, taking on the task of training Uber managers how to be managers in the wake of the Holder report.

June 6: Uber fires 20 employees as part of its ongoing investigation into workplace issues

The Perkins Coie investigation — which looked into individual claims of harassment and other issues — resulted in 20 terminations. The investigation was still not concluded at this point.

June 6: Uber hires Apple marketing executive Bozoma Saint John as its chief brand officer

“I know what I’m walking into,” Saint John told Recode in an interview. “I think it’s a really exciting time to tell the story well. Certainly there have been lots of things that have been swirling around [about] Uber, but I’m interested in telling the story about the service and what is happening from the brand standpoint.”

Uber’s new chief brand officer Bozoma Saint JohnUber
Uber’s new chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John

June 7: Eric Alexander, an Uber executive who obtained the medical files of a rape victim in India, is fired.

Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources. He then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or were shown them.

June 8: Recode obtains a letter Kalanick sent to employees ahead of a Miami employee party in 2013

In it, Kalanick reminds employees of a few rules before the party, one of which was:

“Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic ‘YES! I will have sex with you’ AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML.”

June 11: Uber’s board pressures company SVP of business Emil Michael to resign

Michael, known to be Kalanick’s second-in-command, was a polarizing figure at the company. It was clear that the soon-to-be-released Holder report looked very bad for him — that includes his involvement with the Alexander incident.

June 11: Uber’s board meets and votes to unanimously accept all of Holder’s recommendations for the company

The board met for seven hours discussing the findings of the Holder investigation. We learn later that those recommendations include bringing on an independent board member, giving Kalanick — who is still at the company at this point — less responsibility, and hiring a chief diversity officer.

June 12: Emil Michael officially resigns

Michael announces his resignation to the staff, and says David Richter, the vicee president of strategic initiatives, will take over.

June 12: Uber appoints Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello to be an independent board member

This was in response to one of the Holder recommendations — to have a more independent board. A bit of background: Kalanick is a board member, and at this point had a few allies, including his co-founder Garrett Camp and first employee Ryan Graves. Huffington was also a Kalanick ally, leaving Benchmark’s Gurley and TPG Capital’s David Bonderman as allies. This becomes an important thread in the narrative later, so remember this.

June 13: Kalanick says he is taking time away from the company

Kalanick, who had just suffered the immense tragedy of losing his mother in a boating accident, said he is taking a leave of absence.

June 13: Uber releases the full Holder recommendations to employees

This doesn’t include the actual report, which has still only been seen by board members. The board held an all-staff meeting, where a lot happened! Huffington said “a new Uber” will emerge — for instance, the conference room called the “War Room” would be called the “Peace Room.” But also … (see next paragraph, because it needs its own moment.)

June 13: David Bonderman, board member, makes a sexist joke and stepped down from the board

June 13 was a busy day for everyone involved. During the all-staff meeting to discuss allegations of sexism, Bonderman made a sexist joke. He promptly resigned. TPG partner David Trujillo takes his place.

The joke:

Arianna Huffington to staff: “There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board.”

Bonderman: “Actually what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”

Lol, right?

June 14: The FTC launches a probe into Uber’s privacy practices with regard to its use of “God View”

The probe also included questions over the data leak of Uber’s drivers.

June 15: The Uber India rape victim files a lawsuit against the company

The victim, whose files Alexander had obtained, claimed the company invaded her privacy and defamed her.

June 20: Uber launches 180 days of change — a driver improvement campaign

The headline here is that in this first chapter of change, Uber finally rolled out tipping.

Here’s the second chapter of that campaign, for which the company overhauls its driver -support operations.

June 20: The impossible happens and Kalanick resigns

This was in response to pressure from major investors, including Benchmark (told you to remember them) and Lowercase Capital (remember this now!), whose representatives sent Kalanick a letter urging him to step down. Kalanick ended up signing it after a few hours. He remains on the company’s board of directors.

Here are all the people running Uber in Kalanick’s stead.

Uber’s executive revolving door Travis Kalanick

June 21: Benchmark partner Bill Gurley steps down from the board

Gurley is replaced by his partner, Matt Cohler.

June 22: Employees send the board a petition to reinstate Kalanick

The petition gets 1,000 or so signatures.

July 25: Uber is in the middle of a CEO search, and Meg Whitman is being considered

Whitman quashes that fairly quickly, and says she won’t be CEO of Uber. That leaves Uber’s CEO search down to only male candidates. In the meantime, Kalanick has been meddling in the search and telling people that he’s going to return to the company.

August 7: Uber board member and co-founder Garrett Camp says Kalanick is not returning as CEO

Employees had started to ask questions about Kalanick’s rumored attempt to return as CEO. Camp said it’s not going to happen.

August 10: Benchmark files a lawsuit against Kalanick for fraud and breach of contract

In a bid to get Kalanick off the board, Benchmark filed a complaint that said Kalanick defrauded the firm into singing a voting agreement that gave him the right to appoint three new board directors. Here are the five key claims in the suit — which the rest of the board said they are “disappointed by.”

August 11: A group of Uber investors loyal to Kalanick asks Benchmark to step off the board

Shervin Pishevar of Sherpa Capital, Ron Burkle of Yucaipa Companies and Adam Leber of Maverick sent Benchmark a letter accusing the firm of holding Uber employees hostage, and asking the firm to divest its shares. He sends another letter a few days later, accusing Benchmark of working with Lowercase and trying to get Huffington off the board, as well.

August 15: As part of Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber, the company files texts between Kalanick and Levandowski

The texts reveal a lot of things, most notably that the two former executives were obsessed with Tesla, Google and other competitors.

August 17: Kalanick files his opposition to the suit, and says Benchmark ambushed him with the pressure to resign

Kalanick said they brought the resignation letter for him to sign when he was grieving his mother, and that the lawsuit is filled with fabrications.

(Just in case you thought there were no developments on the Alphabet, lawsuit here is all the movement on that case over the last few months.)

We’ll be continually updating this timeline.