Bad things always come in threes. It’s an old saying that’s applying right now to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who’s crisis-response abilities have certainly been given a workout in the past few months.
Last night, Kalanick wrote to staff apologizing for a heated exchange with an Uber driver that was captured on film and sent to Bloomberg. “By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I’m ashamed is an extreme understatement,” he said.
The dashboard recording—turned over to the news organization by the driver, Fawzi Kamel—showed the CEO sitting in the back seat between two female friends. Initially, Kalanick is seen bantering with them and shimmying along to some music. When the car reaches its destination Kalanick and Kamel engage in a conversation about falling ride prices at Uber’s Black Car service. Things start getting heated when Kamel accuses Kalanick of sending him into bankruptcy.
Eventually, Kalanick loses his cool, retorting with: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
The 40-year-old Uber co-founder is already reeling from accusations of widespread sexual harassment at the ride-sharing company that was allegedly permitted by senior management and, some claim, led to the departure of many female employees. That scandal came after Kalanick quit Donald Trump’s economic advisory council amid an angry response from customers that didn’t like the way Uber dropped prices during a cab driver strike protesting the president’s travel ban.
In his latest letter, Kalanick said that he needs “leadership help” in a startling admission that could indicate his stewardship of the company is on shaky ground.
“My job as your leader it to lead and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained,” he said.
“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
Kalanick, at least, has fashioned his apology the way most other CEOs should: he immediately accepted responsibility for his actions and explained how he’s going to fix things.
But investors and customers may only accept so many, regardless of how well they’re delivered.