March 7, 2017 / 7:08 PM / 9 months ago

As criticism mounts, Uber seeks chief operating officer to temper CEO

(Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said on Tuesday the ride-services firm is looking for a chief operating officer to help run the company, which has been battered by a series of damning revelations about its culture and business tactics.

A man exits the Uber offices in Queens, New York, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Kalanick has retained a firm grip on the company since its founding in 2009, and his pugnacious manner has helped shape Uber’s aggressive style. The San Francisco-based company’s culture has been evident in hostile interactions with city officials over the years, threats to journalists by a senior executive, its haste to remove critical drivers from the app, and a blog post last month from a former employee who recounted a workplace of sexual harassment and cut-throat competition.

A series of events bringing Uber’s practices and Kalanick’s leadership into doubt has unfolded over the last few weeks, fueling customer backlash and raising investor concern. Kalanick’s efforts to hire a No. 2 is the strongest public indication yet that the chief executive believes Uber could benefit from another style of leadership.

"This morning I told the Uber team that we're actively looking for a Chief Operating Officer: a peer who can partner with me to write the next chapter in our journey," Kalanick said in a blog post on Tuesday. (ubr.to/2n2sLwT)

The announcement comes a week after Kalanick publicly apologized for a video, released by Bloomberg, that showed him berating a Uber driver who had complained to Kalanick about rate cuts.

“I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick, 40, said in a statement following the video’s release. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

The extent to which a new hire could repair reputational damage from Uber’s string of missteps remains to be seen. It is unclear how much responsibility or authority the new chief operating officer will have.

An Uber spokesman declined to answer questions about the new hire, which was previously reported by The Information and the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to the video of Kalanick’s argument and allegations of sexual harassment, top engineering executive Amit Singhal resigned last week. Singhal was asked to resign because he did not disclose that he was the target of a sexual harassment allegation during his tenure at Alphabet Inc’s GOOGL.OGoogle.

Singhal has denied the allegations.

Also, Uber last week said it had for years has used a secret tool to avoid authorities in markets where its service faced resistance by law enforcement or was banned, confirming a report by The New York Times.

And Uber is battling a lawsuit filed by Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, which accuses Uber of stealing designs for technology for autonomous cars.

Uber has said Waymo’s claims are false.

Early Uber investors Mitch and Freada Kapor last month publicly rebuked the company in a letter posted online for its “tolerance for bullying and harassment,” and called on Uber to change its “destructive culture.”

They are the only investors to publicly criticize Uber’s behavior in response to recent allegations.

Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker

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