Of all the management mistakes that led to Uber’s culture and business crisis, Travis Kalanick’s biggest mistake was that he kept a tight inner circle of executives, for whom bad behavior appeared to have no consequences. The most egregious example of this anything-goes leadership culture was in 2014, when Emil Michael, then Uber’s senior vice president, suggested at a private dinner that Uber put a million dollars into hiring a team of opposition researchers and journalists to dig into the personal lives of the company’s critics.
Although Michael was made to apologize publicly, Kalanick didn’t fire him for his behavior. Post–public scandal there were no internal consequences. Michael’s continued tenure signaled that Kalanick would tolerate bad behavior, if not encourage it.
Which is why Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is now faced with an impossible situation. Barney Harford is the operational and strategy whiz Khosrowshahi recruited last fall to help fix Uber.