You wonder why Uber has ethics problems?
This is why Uber has ethics problems.
Uber is being investigated by two law firms hired to make assessments regarding the corporate practices and culture at the ride-sharing giant, determine what created the toxic environment that led to sexism, sexual harassment, other unethical management conduct, and recommend remedial measures. Usually in such situations, the problem stems from unethical leadership. Guess what? Uber’s unethical conduct stems from not merely unethical leadership, but a leader with ethics alarms that have rotted into dust and rust.
The two law firms recently uncovered a 2013 e-mail sent to Uber’s staff by CEO Travis Kalanick before a company outing in Miami. Internally referred to as the “Miami letter,” this thing screams “What was he thinking?”, “Where were the lawyers?” and “This guy might get elected President of the United States!”
Here is the e-mail; I’m going to bold some important features:
From: Travis Kalanick
Date: Friday, October 25, 2013
Subject: 九 Info: URGENT, URGENT – READ THIS NOW OR ELSE!!!!!
To: Uber Team
Hey guys, I wanted to get some important information out there. I’ve put together a Q&A that we can use when other folks ask what we’re doing here, and have some DOs and DON’Ts for our time here in Miami.
You better read this or I’ll kick your ass.
Q&A – If I’ve missed anything, or you just have a random question, please reply to all on this thread!
Q: What is Uber doing here?
A: Uber has recently rolled out to its 50th global city. We are celebrating this company milestone and others and have organized a local grassroots movement to help bring Uber to Miami. #MiamiNeedsUber
Q: What does the Chinese symbol 九 stand for?
A: 九 translates to the number 9. It is a symbol that has internal meaning at Uber but is something we do not discuss externally.
Q: Is this an Internet bubble boondoggle?
A: It’s a celebration of a major milestone for the company, as well as a chance for us to hold a company-wide retreat and organize our efforts globally. It’s the one time that everyone in the company can meet in person all the people we work with every day.
I have gotten a list of concerns from the legal department. I have translated these concerns into a clear set of common sense guidelines. I’ve also added a few items of my own.
1) No lives should begin or end at 九
2) We do not have a budget to bail anyone out of jail. Don’t be that guy. #CLM
3) Do not throw large kegs off of tall buildings. Please talk to Ryan McKillen and Amos Barreto for specific insights on this topic.
4) Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic “YES! I will have sex with you” AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip. #CEOLife #FML
5) Drugs and narcotics will not be tolerated unless you have the appropriate medicinal licensing.
6) There will be a $200 puke charge for any public displays on the Shore Club premises. Shore Club will be required to send pictures as proof.
7) DO NOT TALK TO PRESS. Send all press inquiries to Andrew – firstname.lastname@example.org Additionally, stay vigilant about making sure people don’t infiltrate our event. If and when you find yourself talking to a non-Uber (look for the wristband), keep confidential stuff confidential… no rev figures, driver figures, trip figures… don’t talk about internal process, and don’t talk about initiatives that have not already launched.
1) Have a great fucking time. This is a celebration! We’ve all earned it.
2) Share good music. Digital DJs are encouraged to share their beats poolside.
3) Go out of your way to meet as many of your fellow uberettos as you can.
4) If you haven’t figured it out yet, Miami’s transportation sucks ass. #Slang as many Miamians, drivers, influencers as you can as passionately as you can and let them know why Uber will make this great city an even better place. Every slang matters. #MiamiNeedsUber…
5) If someone asks to meet the CEO and Founder of Uber, kindly introduce him to Max Crowley.
According to sources in the company, Kalanick was advised not to send this email because of its tone, which “some execs thought too cavalier.” Say the same sources, “Some worried that building a global public company required a more mature tone from the CEO.”
Ya think??? This is another example where equivocation doesn’t work. If your job is to advise the boss and he wants to do something as galactically stupid as sending out an e-mail like this, “Uh, sir? I’m not sure this is the best approach; it might be seen by some as a bit too cavalier, don’t you think?” is not a competent response. The equivocal language undermines the seriousness of the problem by minimizing it.
Admittedly my usual approach—“Are you out of your mind? You can’t send this; it sends the message that inappropriate conduct is no big deal here. And if gets out, we look like Animal House!”—explains why my tenure in large organizations have tended to end badly. Still, feet have to be put down, hard, and on necks if necessary.
At that Miami blow-out, an Uber executive got in trouble for inappropriate sexual behavior, which contributing to his resignation. Gee, I wonder how that could have happened?
The memo is unethical in multiple ways:
1. The kick your ass line is threatening and bullying, and reinforces an oppressive working environment.
2. The e-mail encourages sexual relations within the staff. This itself arguably creates a hostile work environment.
3. The “puke charge’ joke is pure sophomoric frat-house stuff, and encourages alcohol abuse by making light of it.
4. The language is boorish and vulgar, you know, like female Democratic U.S. Senators. This is rude, obviously, disrespectful to employees who don’t like being spoken to in such terms, and encourages harsh and uncivil discourse.
Prediction: If Uber doesn’t ditch its irresponsible CEO, ethics crises will continue, and bring down the company.
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