The housecleaning at Uber is just getting under way. Uber fired more than 20 people after a company-wide investigation into harassment claims and hired at least two high-profile senior executives whose job will be to set strategy and rethink branding.
Law firm Perkins Coie LLP led the investigation, reviewing 215 human-resources claims; while it took no action in 100 instances, it’s still probing 57 others. There’s also a separate investigation commissioned by Uber that’s being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder.
That group shared detailed findings with a subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors, but a summary isn’t expected to be made public until next week, a person familiar with the matter said. Uber also plans to take action on some of the report’s findings next week, the person said.
“They’re showing that they’re going to take some concrete steps to address the matter,” said Evan Rawley, a professor at Columbia University’s business school. “This issue is going to keep being at the forefront until the investigation is completed.”
Uber is awash in investigations after former engineering employee Susan Fowler published a blog post alleging that she was sexually harassed and that the case was mishandled by human resources and senior management. Uber’s woes don’t end there. It’s also suffered a flurry of departures by senior executives, including heads of finance, growth, engineering and policy and communications. Chief executive Travis Kalanick — who himself has made a series of public relations blunders, including being caught on video arguing with an Uber driver — has conceded he needs leadership help and hired a search firm to find a chief operating officer.
Bobbie Wilson, an attorney at Perkins Coie, gave Uber’s more than 12,000 employees an assessment of the firm’s investigation on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the issue. Some of the people fired were senior executives, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. The company didn’t name the employees who were let go.
Aside from those fired, 31 employees are in counselling or training, while seven received written warnings from the company, an Uber spokesman said. The issues deal with harassment, discrimination, retaliation and other HR matters.
Kalanick has taken other steps to clean up Uber’s image. He asked for the resignation of Amit Singhal, his new head of software engineering, after the company learned of a sexual harassment claim at his former employer, Google. Singhal, who left in late February, denied the allegation.
In the wake of complaints and the leadership void, Uber hired two women as senior executives — former Apple Inc. executive Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer and Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei as senior vice present for leadership and strategy.
Saint John rose to prominence last year at Apple’s annual developer conference, where she introduced a revised version of the company’s music streaming service designed to make it easier to use. She told Business Insider that her role at Uber will be to burnish the company’s brand and make it more like Apple’s. “It’s grown so quickly in such a short amount of time — and leadership and others have been so focused on growing the business — that this very moment is about changing the image of Uber and crafting what that brand story is,” Saint John told the website. “That hasn’t been done yet.” Saint John will be Uber’s highest ranking black executive.
Saint John joined Apple in April 2014 as head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Beats Music. She previously worked as the head of music and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo Inc.
For her part, Frei told Recode that her “goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed.” Frei is the author of the book “Uncommon Service: How to Win By Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” and plans to commute from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to San Francisco.
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