A Top Uber Executive Departs, Fraying the Company’s ‘A-Team’


On Monday, Mr. Michael, who was Mr. Kalanick’s second in command, left the company, according to an email sent to Uber employees. His departure followed a series of scandals that have rocked the company this year, forcing its board to call an investigation into Uber’s culture and business practices. The results of that investigation, conducted by Eric H. Holder Jr. of Covington & Burling, included a recommendation for Mr. Michael to exit Uber.

Mr. Michael’s departure follows that of Mr. Alexander, who was fired from Uber last week for his role in mishandling the rape case of an Uber passenger in India. Mr. Pham is also under scrutiny for what many see as his shortcomings in listening to employee complaints, according to two people familiar with the proceedings who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the company. And Mr. Kalanick is weighing a three-month leave of absence from the company, which he helped found.

“The board is clearly seeking to significantly change the optics for Uber,” said Jeremy Robinson-Leon, principal at Group Gordon, a corporate public relations management firm. “This sends a signal to stakeholders that change is coming, in some form or fashion.”

Mr. Michael’s exit and the fraying of the A-Team is just the tip of more changes to come. Uber’s board held a nearly seven-hour meeting on Sunday in Los Angeles to discuss other personnel matters, including the planned addition of a new board member, Wan Ling Martello, an executive at Nestlé. Mr. Kalanick has not made a final decision about whether to take a leave of absence, said three people close to him.



OPEN Document

Document: Email From Departing Uber Executive


The board discussions also preceded the public release, scheduled for Tuesday, of some portions of Mr. Holder’s report on Uber. The report’s findings and recommendations are expected to spur another wave of changes at the company; on Sunday night, the board issued a statement saying that it had “unanimously voted to adopt all the recommendations of the Holder report.”

Uber declined to comment. Through a spokesman, Mr. Kalanick declined to comment.

The A-Team unofficially began forming at Uber in 2010, the year after Mr. Kalanick and his co-founder Garrett Camp started the ride-hailing service. That year, the two hired Ryan Graves, an engineer who responded to Uber’s call for help on Twitter.

Soon, others became part of that circle, including Mr. Pham, a former VMware vice president who joined Uber in 2013, and Mr. Michael, who worked at a start-up called Klout before joining Uber that same year. Other A-Team members included lower-profile executives like Jeff Holden, who works on Uber’s product, and operations managers like Rachel Holt, Andrew MacDonald and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty.

It is unclear how the A-Team name came about, but the moniker was used by members internally, and employees widely understood the reference as pertaining to many executives who reported directly to Mr. Kalanick.

Many A-Team members became fast friends with Mr. Kalanick, traveling with him around the world to help spread Uber’s business. Some, like Mr. Alexander, were close confidants of Mr. Kalanick’s despite not reporting directly to him. All shared a mission-driven desire to disrupt entrenched transportation systems and replace the status quo with ride hailing.

Their aggressiveness paid off, with Uber taking off not only in the United States but also in Brazil and many other countries. Investors clamored to give Uber billions of dollars in funding. Established taxi companies began to lose business to Uber.

Those victories gave the A-Team something of an air of invincibility, said three people familiar with the matter, and that ultimately led some to make missteps.

For one, Mr. Alexander, who was based in Hong Kong, received the medical records of an Indian woman who was raped by an Uber driver in late 2014. He was terminated from Uber last week after reporters began asking questions about his actions.

Photo

A sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber car service at LaGuardia Airport.

Credit
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Mr. Michael was perhaps the highest-profile member of Mr. Kalanick’s A-Team. A Harvard graduate, he was the chief executive’s right hand, helping Uber raise billions of dollars from major investors.

But he also became embroiled in several embarrassing incidents at Uber. In 2014, Mr. Michael made public comments about performing opposition research on journalists, including a BuzzFeed reporter who he felt frequently and unfairly attacked the company. At the time, Mr. Kalanick defended Mr. Michael and said he thought Mr. Michael could learn from his mistakes.

Mr. Michael’s name came up again when The Information, a technology news website, reported this year that he and Mr. Kalanick had visited an escort bar in South Korea several years ago as part of a business trip. The visit made some co-workers uncomfortable and led to a complaint to human resources.

Ultimately, that history caught up with Mr. Michael, whose last day at Uber was Sunday. It was not clear whether Mr. Michael resigned or was fired. Uber confirmed his departure but declined to comment further. David Richter, a business development executive at Uber, will take over Mr. Michael’s position as senior vice president for business.

“Uber has a long way to go to achieve all that it can, and I am looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the years ahead,” Mr. Michael said in his departure note to employees.

Uber is now bringing in new top executives. Liane Hornsey came aboard several months ago as Uber’s new head of human resources. More recently, the company hired Bozoma St. John, a former Apple executive, in the newly created position of chief brand officer. And Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor and management consultant, was appointed Uber’s first senior vice president for leadership and strategy.

Uber is still in search of a new general counsel, a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer with “public company experience.”

With all the changes, the A-Team — at least as originally conceived — is unlikely to come together again.

“What they’re saying now is that they’ve gotten the message and that management wants Uber to be around for a very long time,” Andrew Gilman, chief executive of the crisis communications firm CommCore, said of Uber’s board. “They’re finally taking corrective action.”

Correction: June 12, 2017

An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of an Uber operations manager. He is Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, not Gore-Cotie.

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