Dara Khosrowshahi and Change at Uber

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Read the titled “Dara Khosrowshahi and Change at Uber” What are your thoughts? Do managers have to be tough and ruthless? (Remember to keep it clean.) Share an example from a manager, coach, or leader that has been either tough and ruthless or nice, and the end results. Give specific examples to support your thoughts. Dara Khosrowshahi and Change at Uber In August 2017, following a period of bad publicity and upheaval, Dara Khosrowshahi replaced Travis Kalanick as chief executive of Uber, the taxi ride-hailing company. Kalanick had led a company known for its “Uber Way” involving a “take-no-prisoners, win-at-any-cost mentality.” This had helped the company to grow rapidly to a $70 billion valuation. However, that same corporate culture had become associated with a series of public relations disasters that began to concern not just employees but also customers, regulators, and investors. Uber’s cultural norms included “always be hustlin,” “toe-stepping” (i.e., “don’t hesitate to challenge the boss”), and “champion’s mind set” (i.e., “get Uber over the finish line”). These norms “took on a more sinister aspect in the workplace”; a former Uber employee said that “everyone used those values to excuse their bad behavior” (Wong, 2017).
Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a blog that described a corporate culture that tolerated sexual harassment and sexism, with both being reinforced through disinclination to act on such behavior when it was brought to the attention of management. Following Fowler’s “bombshell blog,” other Uber employees were emboldened to report their experiences and around 200 claims of sexual harassment were made against the company. During the first half of 2017, many Uber employees left, not wanting to be associated with the scandals or because they felt that they had been mistreated by managers. Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, said, “Travis had almost a Rambo-style approach to leadership, which made Uber giant. But it came with a lot of fallout.” Khosrowshahi started quietly, talking to people—drivers, customer support staff, and women engineers.
In the words of Jessica Bryndza, Uber’s global director of people experiences and employer brand, “He didn’t come in guns blazing, he came in listening.” Months later, he was still listening. He also “made nice” with lawmakers in response to their removal of Uber’s license to operate in London, including stating in public, “On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologize for the mistakes we’ve made.” Meetings were held in cities around the world where regulatory disputes were occurring—something that Kalanick had not done. One journalist said that Khosrowshahi being a “measured and diplomatic leader, doesn’t mean he’s meek. He’s dramatically reshaped Uber’s famously ‘toxic’ corporate culture” (Kerr, 2018).

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Dara Khosrowshahi’s approach to change at Uber serves as a compelling example of how a leader’s style can significantly impact an organization’s culture and outcomes. In this case, the transition from Travis Kalanick’s tough and ruthless leadership style to Khosrowshahi’s more measured and diplomatic approach had profound consequences.

Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, led the company with a “take-no-prisoners, win-at-any-cost mentality.” While this approach contributed to Uber’s rapid growth and a $70 billion valuation, it also fostered a toxic corporate culture characterized by behaviors like sexual harassment, sexism, and a general disregard for ethical norms. This culture led to public relations disasters, employee dissatisfaction, and regulatory challenges.

One example of a tough and ruthless manager is Travis Kalanick himself. Under his leadership, Uber expanded aggressively and gained a dominant market position, but this was achieved at the expense of ethics and employee well-being. The “Rambo-style approach” that Eric Schiffer mentioned resulted in significant fallout, including a tarnished reputation and a high employee turnover rate.

On the other hand, Dara Khosrowshahi’s approach was markedly different. He recognized the need for a change in culture and began by listening to various stakeholders, including drivers, customer support staff, and women engineers. Khosrowshahi demonstrated a willingness to engage with lawmakers and regulators, apologizing for the company’s mistakes publicly. He held meetings in cities where regulatory disputes were occurring, a stark departure from Kalanick’s confrontational style.

The end result of Khosrowshahi’s approach was a transformation of Uber’s corporate culture. While he didn’t abandon the goal of growth and profitability, he reshaped the company’s values and norms. Uber’s shift from a toxic culture to a more measured and diplomatic one has led to improved employee morale, reduced legal and regulatory challenges, and enhanced public perception.

In conclusion, the case of Dara Khosrowshahi and the change at Uber illustrates that managers don’t necessarily have to be tough and ruthless to achieve success. A more balanced and empathetic leadership style, coupled with a commitment to ethical values, can lead to positive organizational outcomes, including improved employee engagement and a more positive public image.

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