Why Immelt is Right for Uber

After months of tense disagreement, Uber’s board of directors meets today to try to fill the leadership void created when cofounder Travis Kalanick stepped down as CEO under pressure two months ago. Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt’s name has jumped to the forefront of potential candidates because of the unique skillset and experience he would bring to the role. The fact that’s he’s available at this moment could be fortuitous for all involved.

“These are star-crossed lovers, and this has all come together and the timing is perfect,” Jeffrey Cunningham, professor of leadership at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management told Chief Executive.

Immelt could be the perfect CEO to keep the ousted Kalanick under control on the company’s board, as his success with leading a much larger enterprise would carry a lot of weight.

“I would call Jeff the lion-tamer,” Cunningham says. “Anyone else that they would bring in not at his stature would be someone he would feel competitive with, and probably inclined to be disruptive—or at least critical of—and that’s a terrible place to start. I think Jeff comes in as someone who anyone would respect. I think he doesn’t dismiss Travis, I think he embraces him in a way that takes him out of the line of fire and has him working toward the betterment of the company.”

“I think Jeff comes in as someone who anyone would respect. I think he doesn’t dismiss Travis, I
think he embraces him in a way that takes him out of the
line of fire and has him working toward the betterment of the company.”

The Uber leadership role would also give Immelt the opportunity to flex his entrepreneurial skills in a way that just wasn’t possible at GE.

“Remember, he took over a legacy company from the King Kong of CEOs, Jack Welch. He had a legacy board, he could only move so fast, four days after he became CEO, 9/11 hit,” Cunningham says. “I think with Uber, he gets a chance to be the entrepreneurial CEO that he’s got inside of him in a way that he was at GE, but could not fully execute in the way that he would have liked.”

Moving the company forward and away from the business culture that led to Kalanick’s resignation as CEO would be one of the first things on Immelt’s to-do list if he becomes Uber’s next chief executive.

“[Immelt] is an innovation maniac. He just thinks innovatively and he brought that to a legacy mindset at GE, and frankly, I think Uber has a legacy mindset,” Cunningham says. “Uber started as the brash, young ‘bro culture,’ and now there’s a lot of noise around that. People need to be shaken out of their legacy mindset on all sides of that image, and I think Jeff can do that.”

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Patrick Gorman
Patrick Gorman is managing editor at Chief Executive magazine, based in Stamford, CT. His business journalism background includes 12 years covering the C-level marketing and technology spaces.

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