Internal bickering among Uber board members was so bad that it sent HP CEO Meg Whitman running for the hills and appears to have stymied the company’s attempts to find a replacement for disgraced founder Travis Kalanick, according to a pair of reports over the weekend.
While each story offered some nuance and unique details, they agreed on a few major points. First, the board is split into factions, with some still loyal to Kalanick. A possible stock sale to SoftBank has complicated the board dynamics. And finally, Kalanick, who was pushed out of his company following a wave of sexual harassment issues, is angling to weasel his way back in some fashion.
There may not be enough popcorn on the planet to last out this saga.
One story came from the New York Times, which, hilariously, reported that after weeks of in-fighting and leaks, Uber’s board had “agreed to a truce in hopes of avoiding another negative round of media coverage.” The Times reported that the “backbiting” and discord among board members has led to a flood of leaks, which in turn prompted Whitman to publicly announce last week that she was taking herself out of the running to become the next Uber CEO.
More details emerged in a story from Recode, which reported that Whitman had given the board a 48-hour deadline to decide if it wanted to seriously consider her. She was scheduled to meet with several board members in coming days. But when she got no response, she pulled the plug, according to Recode.
While both stories noted that Kalanick was trying to plot a strategy that would allow him to return to Uber in some fashion, Recode went a bit further by suggesting he was making a play to become CEO again. Specifically, Recode reported: “Since he left, Kalanick has told numerous people, including at least one job candidate, that he was ‘Steve Jobs-ing it’, an apparent reference to the purge and later return of the legendary Apple founder at the company.”
Complicating all of this is the potential investment by SoftBank. Apparently, the board is split (surprise!) over whether to continue talks, with one faction arguing that Uber doesn’t need the money, and others fretting that the involvement of SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son could give Kalanick a powerful new ally. On the other hand, SoftBank has been investing in Uber’s Asian rivals, so shutting it out could pose its own problems.
Meanwhile, both stories agreed there were four remaining candidates, though they only named outgoing GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. A new CEO is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, which likely can’t come too soon for a company that hasn’t had a chief financial officer for two years and said it was searching for a chief operating officer before Kalanick departed.
Other than that, it’s business as usual for Uber.