Former GE CEO Jeff Immelt is Front-Runner for Uber CEO Job (Aug 21, 2017)
Another week, another story about erstwhile Uber CEO refusing to go gently into that good night. The Information is reporting that Travis Kalanick has been quietly building up a bloc of shareholders who will back him in a potential fight over the course of several years, while also sounding out employees recently on whether they would support him in that eventuality. Though the details here are new, the broad thrust is similar to the reporting last week that Kalanick was hoping to be able to get back into an operational role at Uber sooner rather than later, something many in leadership at Uber don’t want, and also a situation that’s likely to put off potential new CEOs, which is presumably part of Kalanick’s motivation here. That he still doesn’t see how central his behavior has been to Uber’s struggles, and how badly it needs to operate for at least some time without him, is the biggest possible sign that Kalanick hasn’t actually changed and isn’t actually sorry for any of what he’s done, which is in turn the best possible signal that he shouldn’t come back. But it seems he has enough supporters left at Uber that he’s convinced himself it’s worth trying anyway. Update: later in the day, an internal email from Uber co-founder and board member Garrett Camp was leaked, in which he said Kalanick would not be returning as CEO, apparently attempting to defuse some of this speculation and even the push to get him back.
via The Information
Apple Appoints Senior Engineer as First MD of Greater China (Jul 19, 2017)
Google Loses Another Fiber CEO, After Five Months on the Job (Jul 18, 2017)
Twitter Hires a Permanent CFO from Intuit (Jul 11, 2017)
The main news item linked below just confirms the reports from over the weekend which I covered yesterday, which suggested Tim Westergren would be stepping down shortly. In the end, it seems he’s stepping down both as CEO and from the board immediately, rather than sticking around, so the CFO will take his place. One thing that wasn’t reported over the weekend is that two other execs – the President and CMO – are also leaving. And lastly, former Viacom, Sling Media and News Corp exec and current media commentator Jason Hirschhorn is joining the board. One quick note: though Recode makes it sound like Hirschhorn is replacing Westergren on the board, Pandora’s press release makes clear he’s filling another recently created opening on the board (which I take to be replacing Pete Gotcher, who stepped down in May). The fact that other execs are also leaving reinforces my sense from yesterday that all this is driven by a clash with soon to be part-owners SiriusXM, but it’s still not entirely clear whether they truly jumped or were pushed. Either way, I continue to be believe we’ll see some big changes. On that note, Australian site Ad News reported that Pandora would shortly shut down its operations in Australia and New Zealand, and Billboard later got confirmation from the company that that’s the case. That would be just the kind of strategic refocusing I’d expect to see over the next few weeks and months.
Pandora CEO Reportedly to Step Down (Jun 26, 2017)
Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has finally bowed to pressure from investors in the company and resigned. It doesn’t look like Uber has issued an official statement at this point, but Recode claims to have confirmed the news following a letter from a number of big investors demanding his resignation. At various points since Uber started melting down in January, I’ve both said that Travis Kalanick was the source of the company’s cultural problems and therefore that it would be very hard for the company to truly change with him still in place, and also as recently as last week said that resignations of other top executives felt hollow when Kalanick had in many places been involved in or at least aware of their wrongful actions. For many years, Kalanick’s closest allies within the company were protected by him even when acting egregiously, and that circle had tightened to just Kalanick himself in recent weeks, but did still include him, making all the changes Uber was making ring rather hollow as he continued at the helm. I think his leave of absence was intended to achieve some of the same objectives as an outright resignation without forcing him out, which would have been tough to do, but it was already clear that he was remaining involved remotely in key decisions and thus that there was no real separation. What’s notable is that, despite all the outside pressure for Kalanick to go, and board members’ repeated defenses of him, it took investors acting as a group to finally force him out. This now leaves an enormous vacuum at the top of the company – a committee of no less than 14 people has been said to be running Uber during Kalanick’s absence – at a time when it has already been looking to fill the COO role and has left several other key executives in recent months. I would guess all that will now be reset, with several new executive search processes eventually running to fill the key roles. That, in turn, is going to make it very hard for the company to move forward aggressively with the changes it has committed to in the wake of the Holder Report recommendations. But this is all for the best long term, even if it’s messy in the short term. One big question that’s outstanding is whether the legal strategy in the Waymo-Uber court case changes at all as a result of Kalanick’s departure – we’ll see now to what extent the approach pursued so far was driven by him personally and to what extent the company will act consistently or differently now that he’s out.
Ex-Apple Engineer Chris Lattner Leaves Tesla After 5 Months (Jun 20, 2017)
Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.
Any other week, I’d have made this a top post – it’s momentous – but of course we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop on Tuesday in terms of the release of the Holder report to employees at Uber and hopefully to the rest of us too. As such, Emil Michael’s departure merely feels like the tipoff for a week of big announcements and changes. But his departure is also somewhat problematic because many of his missteps also involved or were supported by Travis Kalanick. In other words, if his past actions merited being pushed out of the door (and they certainly did) then Kalanick staying feels like a sign of a double standard. Either those actions warranted those responsible being fired, or they didn’t. However, symbolically, Michael’s departure signals the end of an era in which Kalanick’s top people pretty much got to stay no matter what they’d done, something we’ve seen signs of changing in recent weeks with several other departures, not least that of Anthony Levandowski. Also worth noting is that Uber has hired a new female board member who currently serves as EVP in South Asia at Nestle. Her appointment as an independent director appears to be in line with recommendations from the Holder Report, though it clearly can’t have been brought about that quickly and must have been in the works previously.
Rather than treat each of yet another set of Uber news as a separate item, I’m bundling three together into a single grab-bag item here. The most notable (and damaging) is the revelation that one of Uber’s senior execs in Asia led an effort to obtain the medical records of an Uber passenger who was raped by her driver and shared the records with CEO Travis Kalanick and others. He wasn’t fired as part of the 20 terminations that resulted from the first investigation which concluded this week, but has apparently been subsequently, allegedly as a result of the digging by Recode reporters. That’s somewhat absurd given how far-reaching and aggressive the investigation was said to have been, but may reflect a slightly higher bar for executive behavior being set as a result of recent arrivals in the management ranks. Secondly, board member Arianna Huffington, who has been acting more as apologist than change agent in this whole saga, both defended Uber’s culture and said management changes were coming in an appearance on CNBC. The latter is new, though not entirely unexpected, while the former is more evidence of a somewhat mystifying attempt to downplay what are obviously damaging signs of a sick corporate culture at Uber. Lastly, Uber lost the latest round in its court case with Waymo, and will now have to turn over documents relating to Uber’s acquisition of Otto, which could provide some more evidence Waymo needs to make its overall case stick. Overall, plenty more evidence here of both the nasty culture and the difficulty of turning it around, and also that Waymo is going to get at least some of what it’s looking for out of the court case.