The event: The
stepping down of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Background to Uber Technologies Inc:
Uber is currently one of the fastest growing start-ups worldwide and has
been exploring the new frontier of the ICT-driven disruptive business model
(Watanabe et al., 2016). Based on this model, it has succeeded in its
global expansion providing a cab service over 479 cities in more than 75
countries worldwide in June of 2016 (Watanabe et al., 2016). It was
founded in March 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garret Camp with the intention
giving their customers “what they want they want it… whether it’s a cab, a
sandwich or a package” (Uber.com 2018). Uber is regarded as the highest-valued venture-supported firm (Belk,
2014) which is specializing in advancements in the digital service and ICT
platform. Uber promotes a sharing economy as it connects the transportation
industry with ICT via its cab ride-sharing application making cabs more
accessible, accurate and affordable (Belk, 2014).
In July 2010 Uber launched in San Francisco after a successful three car
test in New York (Bond 2015), closely followed by a launched in the New York
market in 2011 and since then Uber has provided an estimated 82,000 rides per
day in the city (Kosoff 2015). In 2014 Uber raised $1.2 billion through
Fidelity investments, this allowed them to proceed with “Uber X”, allowing any
qualified driver with a vehicle meeting Uber’s safety standards to drive for
Uber therefore further expanding the Uber universe (Bond, 2015). This huge
investment allowed Uber to decrease fair rides prices lower than competition internationally
(Bond, 2015), allowing for an exponential rate of growth (Belk, 2014). Uber
continues to aggressively expand its operations using its ICT based services to
provide Uber Eats, Uber Freight and Uber maps (Bond 2015, Uber.com 2012,
UberFreight.com 2017 and Morris 2016).
From my SWOT analysis (Appendices A)
I have analysed Uber’s environment identifying the key factors that are
effecting Uber’s environment. Uber’s competition Lyft, Sidecar, Hailo, Wingz,
Gett, and ZimRide provide stern competition within the market (O’Toole et al
2017). As Uber and its competitors begin to expand the market becomes more complex,
volatile and saturated (O’Toole et
The legal environment for Uber is volatile, with over 173 court cases from
their launch in 2012 (Dypiangco), leading to bans in Germany, London, Sheffield
and with more countries to follow suit, this will prevent further expansion
processes for Uber (Malhotra et al 2014). Uber is involved in the sharing
economy environment, creating an “asset-light” environment which helps promote
decreased costs for Uber (O’Toole 2017 & Tonin 2015).
Based upon my SWOT analysis the environment for Uber is highly volatile and
is highly competitive. The market is constantly developing due to technology
advancements and ever-changing regulations. Utilization of technology is
essential component to remain competitive thus is important for Uber to remain
more technologically advanced than competitors (Kneese et al 2014).
Uber’s environment is now becoming even more volatile as social media now
focuses firmly on specific organisations, this has created a very high risk and
high feedback environment for Uber (Wantanbe et al 2017).
The focus: The stepping down of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
The event I will be focusing on is
the stepping down of Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. The cultural makeup
of Uber was seen to be created and harnessed by Kalanick (Kessler 2013), with
Uber stakeholders often questioning his strategic methods, his aggressive
approach and his avoidance of problems with short term solutions (Kessler
2013). Kalanick’s aggressive approach leaded to a labialization of his specific
tactics, which included “include Operation Slog, Rolling Thunder, God View, and
Ride of Glory”, all of which are in the “grey area” and considered highly
unethical (Kessler, 2013; Vara, 2014; Bhuiyan and Warzel, 2014; O’Brien, 2014).
The culture created by Kalanick created a lack of discipline (Taylor 2015),
which stakeholders considered the issue which created most of their significant
legal and social issues (Zakrzewski, 2017).
Five of the largest investors of
Uber began a revolt in June 2017, demanding the resignation of CEO Kalanick (Issacc
2017). This signified all the problems with Uber as previously mentioned in
weaknesses, with majority of them stemming to the counter culture created by Kalanick
during his reign, which I believe was too macho/masculine and aggressive for
long term orientation but valued in short term growth orientation.
Deal and Kennedy Theory over Harrison and Handy Alternative Theory:
Harrison 1972 and Handy 1982 is my
chosen alternative theoretical framework as it very similar in some aspects to
my chosen framework theory Deal and Kennedy 1983. The main difference would be
in terms of the views of organisational structures relationship with
organisational culture, Harrison suggests structure creates the organisational
culture and values while Handy suggests that culture evolves as circumstances
changes therefore structure is not the “prime mover” but culture is therefore the
instigator of the structure of an organisation (Harrison 1972 and Handy 1982
& Deal and Kennedy 1983).
I have chosen Deal and Kennedy over
Harrison and Handy for three main reasons. Firstly, the focus of Harrison’s
work is on the structures effect on culture but my issue predominantly focuses
on Travis Kalanick’s effect on the corporate culture rather than the structure.
My focus is more on the cultural elements fabricated by Kalanick’s leadership
rather than the structure of Uber’s effect on culture, which the cultural
element factors of Deal and Kennedy is ideal for analysis. Secondly, Deal and
Kennedy uses feedback and risk, an enormous factor of Uber’s success and
problems that has stemmed from their culture, Harrison and Handy’s work has no
mention of these key issues. Lastly the focus of Harrison’s work refers mainly
to the structures effects on employee culture. Deal and Kennedy on the other
hand focus on the cultural effects on the entire organisation and the potential
consequences of becoming a distinct one of the four cultures.
Deal and Kennedy Model 1983:
This model can be used to examine
cultural elements of organisations, using four distinct types of cultures and
two market place factors which Deal and Kennedy believed influenced the
cultural behaviours of organisations.
Factor one was the speed of
feedback, described in terms of fast or slow in how quickly a company
recognises it strategies are successful. Factor two is the degree of risk rated
high or low, analysing the company’s activities in terms of risk.
The four distinct cultures used by
Deal and Kennedy are work hard/play hard, bet your company, macho tough guy and
process all with unique cultural elements.
Tough Guy Macho:
This culture is identified with
individualists, those who thrive on risk and get instant feedback on their
actions. Employees often work to be a heroic figure in the organisations, with
an all or nothing culture the individuals who are most successful often thrive
under pressure and enjoy excitement. Team value is not treasured in this
culture, with those who start at a slower rate often left behind in the
difficult organisation environment. Individualism if a key factor to the tough
guy macho culture.
Work Hard/Play Hard:
This culture involves less risk
than others, although the feedback is almost immediate. Employees must maintain
energetic levels to ensure success and a high level of performance. This
culture recognises the importance of a team ethos although high level individuals
can gain a hero status, which can drive employees to new levels. Examples of
this culture are usually in sales.
Bet your company:
A high-risk organisation but
feedback can be slow, some cases it may even take several years. Due to the
long-term orientation of the feedback and the risks involved the culture of
these organisations can often be meticulous in its planning ensuring due
diligence at all the levels of planning. Examples of this culture often come
from pharmaceutical and oil companies.
This culture involves slow feedback
and a low risk rating, often seen in financial services such as banks, insurance
companies and government organisations.
No single transaction usually
impacts the organisation heavily and decisions usually take year to impact the
organisation. Employees focus on how they do things instead of performance as
it is so difficult to measure. Employees focus on the process, in the best
interest of getting a positive outcome.
Six Cultural elements:
Deal and Kennedy emphasize the
importance of culture, suggesting it is the “prime mover” over structure,
strategy and politics (Deal and Kennedy 1983). The elements of culture have been
described as six tangible components by Deal and Kennedy.
History which lays the values for
corporate culture. The values organisations are built on often continue to be
Values and beliefs often stem from
what the organisation finds most important and determines what the company
Rituals and ceremonies are specific
aspects of the job which can bring employees together and reinstate the culture
of an organisations, for example weekly lunch with fellow employees.
Corporate stories often allow
employees to understand what is expected of them in terms of behaviour for
example hearing of charitable donation from a senior director would influence
employees to be more charitable.
Heroic figures are members of the
organisation with a star status, they act as role models for the rest of the
organisation and provide an embodiment of organisational values and beliefs.
The last component is the informal
cultural network, which is often where the most important cultural information
is learned. Informal players include gossipers, storytellers, whispers, spies,
priests and priestesses. Gossipers spread stories with their own personal
themes, storytellers interpret events and spread the information, whispers
communicate informal information from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top
and can be used by anyone, spies communicate bottom to top on a constant basis
while the priests and priestesses guard the culture of an organisation.
To conclude Deal and Kennedy describe culture as dynamic and difficult to
understand, but this theorization helps to identify a cultural framework of any
given organization and allows further understanding for the behavior of
organizations such as Uber.
Deal and Kennedy
Framework Analysis of the stepping down of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:
In this section I will analyze the reasons for Kalanick’s stepping down
using the Deal and Kennedy model framework. I aim to provide an analysis of
Kalanick’s leadership of Uber and how his action promoted the cultural values
which promoted a tough guy macho culture throughout Uber which eventually led
to his dismissal.
As mentioned in weaknesses Uber has a poor relationship with their drivers
(Butler at al 2017), this has leaded to a complex cultural structure divide
between the hierarchy of Uber. Although I recognize that Uber has more than a
single type of culture, I have chosen to examine the Tough guy macho culture of
Deal and Kennedy as from my analysis it has had the most impact on the
dismissal of former CEO Kalanick.
Tough guy macho culture involves an individualistic attitude, Uber maintains
this through an individual setting throughout the hierarchy (Wantanbe et al
2016), with individual interests being the main priority. For example, drivers
have no team valuation, rarely communicate with other drivers and a have only
individual goals to aspire to, such as individual ratings and individual tips (Rosenblat
2016). This individualistic attitude was part of the ethos of the organisation,
with little ethical considerations for others including governments,
competition, customers and even their own employees (Rosenblat 2016). Fowler
suggest the employees of the company would “step on each other’s toes” to just
become successful in Uber. Kalanick was even recorded verbally fighting with a
taxi driver of Uber, evading responsibility of the reduction in black cabs driver’s
wages and claiming that the driver was blaming his problems on someone else (Issac
2017) emphasizing heavily on the ethos of individualism in Uber.
This attitude means that employees
were not afraid to make high risk decisions even at expense of others and
thrived on the excitement of risk taking, although this has led to many legal
issues for Uber, it has also allowed the company to aggressively expand. This
individual risk taking attitude created an aggressive organisation which choose
to “break all these rules, they had to fight with taxi companies, they had to
sidestep laws of different states and countries” (Feloni and Grant 2017).
This individualistic culture created a barrage
of legal issues for Uber and Kalanick, with more consideration for others some
of these issues could have been avoided. Tough guy macho type cultures often
take part in these high risk processes to achieve their aims at a higher rate
(Deal and Kennedy 1983).
Instant feedback is another factors
associated with a tough guy macho culture, Uber has an array of immediate
feedback features such as the drivers rating system, social media and immediate
impact on sales through demographics (Wantanbe et al 2016). This impacted
Kalanick’s reign as CEO as multiple decisions had an immediate feedback which
then led to an immediate impact on his positions security.
For example, Kalanick joined
Trump’s economic advisory board, this leaded to a #deleteUber protest causing
Uber to lose 200,000 customers within a week (Shen 2017 & Wong 2017). The
feedback from customers was almost immediate for Kalanick’s decision, one of
the factors leading to his stepping down from the position to satisfy members
of Ubers staff and customers (Shen 2017). Feedback is how a company identifies
its performance, but with the introduction of social media and the internet
feedback is now available to customers which can heavily impact sales,
performance and brand image as seen with Uber.
Kalanick is the envisagement of a
“bro culture”, a masculine hero figure who embodies the meaning of tough guy
macho culture (Fowler 2017). His language, attitude and values has defined him
as a “frat leader” (Fowler and Gapper 2017), with Gapper suggesting Kalanick
had a party lifestyle and never matured into the position of CEO. Kalanick’s
lack of maturity leaded to an ongoing high risk and high feedback process with
the tough guy macho culture, this culture identifies with high short term
growth and not long term orientation. Mills suggests Uber’s culture works
proficiently for small enterprises but that Uber’s culture failed to adapt as
the number of employees grew.
Six Elements of Tough Guy Macho Culture:
Deal and Kennedy suggest a culture
is created through six key elements which I will discuss to show how they influence
the tough guy macho culture and how this in turn is was influenced by Kalanick.
History is the first element which
can encapsulate culture, with values and beliefs having evolved over time
within the company. For Uber their history is quite short in comparison to some
of the large technology companies such as Mircosoft and Apple, leaving less
time to analyse their own culture as their focus was based around growth. Uber’s
values stemmed from Kalanick’s history in Silicon Valley and other technological
companies, which are often male orientated and often culturally related to the
term “bro culture” (Lyons 2017).
The Silicon Valley bro culture
entails an organisation willing to do anything to win, male orientated culture,
treatment of women as second class citizens with the company often having
little moral values this stems heavily into Uber’s values, beliefs and short
history (Lyons 2017).
Uber’s values and beliefs demonstrate
a company which firmly matches the tough guy macho culture in Deal and Kennedys
model, with key phrases like “superpumpedness, fierencess, always be hustling
and toestepping” used to describe their core values and beliefs (Shontell 2014
& Fowler 2017). These key phrases were emphasized by Kalanick (Shontell
2014) emphasizing his influence on the bro and tough guy macho culture within
Uber. Phrases such as toe-stepping and fierceness in my opinion stimulates an
individualist culture with an inconsiderate and combative attitude. These
values stimulated Uber to use controversial tactics such as Operation Slog, God
View, GreyBalling and ride of Glory all aimed at deceiving customers, the
government and competition in search of exponential growth and a competitive advantage
(Kessler, 2013; Vara, 2014; Bhuiyan and Warzel, 2014; O’Brien, 2014).One of
Kalanick’s main downfalls as the leader of Uber was his lack of foresight of
how his influence on core values and beliefs may lead to future consequences,
his perception was short term orientated with minimal thought for the future
consequences of actions.
Heroic figures are mentioned by
Deal and Kennedy as an influential factor for culture, in Uber Kalanick was
recognised as the most influential heroic figure with admiration coming from an
abundance of people internally and externally (Sturges 2017 & Hempl 2016).
Kalanick’s power as both the leader and the heroic figure meant he had a major
influence on the company’s culture.
Kalanick’s language was very male
orientated and aggressive often using terms such as “always be hustling”,
“super pumpedness” and “fierceness” influencing the Uber ideology of an aggressive
bro tough guy macho culture. This is further acknowledged by his usage of
“boober” in a GQ article in 2014, which meant Uber allowed him to attract more
women (Wantanbe et al 2015), which Fowler 2017 suggests is linked to his objectification
of women. The attitude of Kalanick spread amongst Uber, with a private party in
Las Vegas for Uber employees leading to an abundance of sexual harassment
claims made against the higher management (Wantanbe et al 2015). It was later
recognised that Kalanick himself had set “light-hearted” rules for sleeping
with each other at this party (Gapper 2017), showing once again his involvement
in shaping the bro culture of Uber.
Kalanick’s antics had then spread
further down the hierarchy to even the drivers who you could say were
influenced by the culture of Uber and the corporate stories surrounding
Kalanick, with numerous sexual harassments/assault issues with the drivers
around the world (Wantanbe et al 2015 & Gapper 2017). This leaded to bans
in major cities such as London, with the TfL describing the company as lacking
in “corporate responsibility” (Macintyre 2017). His influence as a heroic
figure could be interpreted as an instigator for Uber’s cultural problems, for
example in 2014 Kalanick and his co-workers visited an escort bar in Seoul
which can be construed as a corporate story which could influence other Uber
employees to act in the same manner (A. Miller 2017).
The last element to analyse the
cultural network characters of Uber. I have identified two key main components
of Uber’s cultural network that created a tough guy macho culture. Susan Fowler
identified the priest/priestesses of Uber in her blog about the sexual
harassment she received while working for Uber (Fowler 2017). She identified
that the harassers to the HR management, with protective phrases such as “high
performers” and “first offense” used to validate not firing the perpetrator
(Fowler 2017), identifying as the priests/priestesses who protected the bro
tough guy macho culture of Uber, in alignment with Uber’s beliefs and values.
Storytellers are the next
characters who heavily influence the macho culture of Uber, in this case for
example Susan Fowler told her story of sexual harassment internally and
externally, and it’s suggested this process of storytelling andwhistleblowing
influenced the internal pressure placed on Kalanick (Bereznak https://www.theringer.com/2017/6/21/16038908/uber-ceo-travis-kalanick-resigns-b099cde16ddf),
being one of the main factors leading to his dismissal. It could be possible
some managers believed they could commit these acts knowing they wouldn’t have
any repercussions, a major influence of a bro tough guy macho culture ethos.
To conclude the event of Kalanick
stepping down as CEO of Uber all stemmed from influence on the cultural
framework of Uber. His attitude created a bro tough guy macho culture,
involving high risk, high feedback and individualistic organisation. These
attitudes created an emphasis on making high risk decisions which in turn had
disastrous impact socially, economically and legally for Uber. Deal and
Kennedys model framework identifies the impact of a high risk and high feedback
process on an organisation, using the cultural elements I have identified the key
aspects of Kalanick’s behaviour and Uber’s environment which created such a
volatile, unpredictable and unsafe workplace. The issues stemming from the
“bro” tough guy macho culture majorly impacted the stability of Uber as an
organisation, Kalanick as the CEO seemed like the main factor to this type of culture
(Gapper 2017) thus leading to the event of his stepping down.
New Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has begun to
implement the necessary cultural changes which I believe will adapt Uber’s
Culture to a more progressive, diverse and ethical nature. As seen from
Appendices B Khosrowshahi has identified new cultural norms, began a positive
relationship with London and finally condemned Kalanick’s behaviour as CEO
showing his enthusiasm for a more ethical and diverse Uber organisation (Mann