You’ve probably heard by now how Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick was caught on video berating one of his own drivers after that driver complained that he had lost money because of the company’s fickle pricing and policy changes. Now Kalanick is doing damage control, telling employees and users that he needs “leadership help” after the incident.
About two minutes into the above video, first published by Bloomberg, one of the two women accompanying Kalanick in an Uber from Super Bowl Sunday mentions that she’s heard the company was “having a bad year.”
The CEO’s response: “I make sure every year is a hard year. That’s kind of how I roll… If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.”
About two minutes later, as Kalanick begins to exit the car, the driver begins to question him about policy changes, claiming that Uber was raising the standards for drivers while dropping the prices charged to customers.
“We’re not dropping the price on [UberBlack],” responds the CEO.
The driver then asks why Uber isn’t offering a higher-cost, higher-end service in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kalanick replies that the company is looking into offering the premium UberLux option in the market, but the driver interjects “But people are not trusting you anymore,” and brings up complaints about drivers sinking money into expensive cars without seeing a return on their investment.
“I lost $97,000 because of you,” says the driver, which is when things begin to get contentious.
When the driver asserts that Uber dropped the price on UberBlack, Kalanick counters with, “Bullshit!”
Then the driver, who tells Bloomberg he’s been with Uber since 2010, tries to explain his argument about this price drop, but Kalanick interrupts, saying, “You know what? Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” adding as he steps out of the car, “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
Kalanick’s rude behavior was immediately picked up on by critics of the company, like the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which has repeatedly gone to battle with Uber and other ride-hailing services.
“That a billionaire like Travis Kalanick would be so quick to dismiss the struggles of a hardworking driver whose difficult circumstances Kalanick himself is largely responsible for is pretty appalling,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai in a statement.
In the midst of the blowback, Kalanick posted a “profound apology” on the company’s website late Tuesday evening:
“By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.
I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.”
This video was recorded a month ago, but Kalanick is only apologizing after the Bloomberg report and the ensuing minor uproar. One could easily question whether the young CEO truly regrets his actions, or just regrets being caught on camera.