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Uber CEO’s resignation exposes the vulnerability of business executives today

The resignation of Uber founder Travis Kalanick from his position as CEO of his own company shows the vulnerability that business executives and entrepreneurs face today.

After all, if Kalanick could not survive a reputation crisis, who can? This is the man that, boldly and almost completely on his own, launched the company that did away with one of the sacred cows of the civilized world: the hyper-regulated taxi industry, which various powerful groups, from unions to large corporations and government agencies, fed on for decades.
Everything began in a more innocuous way. A young engineer named Susan Fowler recounted in her personal blog that her supervisor at Uber had sexually harassed her and that when she notified the company’s human resources department, the response had been that her harasser was very efficient at his job and that they preferred not to bother him with trivialities.

Fowler left Uber and quickly got a job at another Silicon Valley start-up, but her disclosures triggered a crisis. Dozens of stories of Uber employees claiming to have been harassed began to appear on social media. Uber entered into crisis containment mode: it opened a hotline where its employees could report cases of sexual harassment and it announced that one of its board members, Ariana Huffington, would be available to receive complaints in person.

The decision to use Huffington, a high-profile businesswoman who, due to her successful career represents the empowerment of women in America like no one else, was a classic traditional public relations maneuver that would have worked in the past. Not today. In today’s transparent world it only served to open the crisis floodgates.

Unfortunately, this was not the only scandal that hit Uber this year. Revelations regarding the fact that the company had used software that created a ghost application to throw off regulators in various cities as well as a lawsuit with Google over the supposed theft of technology to produce self-driving cars soured the panorama. Besieged, the Uber board asked Kalanick to resign.

The most ironic thing about this situation is that a major aspect of the crisis the company faces is linked to the same characteristics that turned it into a major company in record time and in a context open to disruption: its decision to rewrite the rules of the game and its commitment to moving forward at all costs at the speed today’s world requires.
This is the great dilemma of business executives today: they are in a situation in which, in part thanks to technology, they can do revolutionary things, making regulations obsolete and radically changing the way many markets operate.

However, the context also requires moving at a high speed and is completely transparent, forcing business executives to always conduct themselves impeccably, even when they are traveling down a slippery slope at 110 miles per hour.
That is why reputation management in today’s world, even for companies that were started in the new world and which seem to be able to operate following their own rules, have become an integral part of the CEO’s job, and as important as a company’s operations management.

Communication as a way to hide our shortcomings no longer exists. Today, safeguarding one’s reputation needs to be part of the business plan. Communication is vital but few have made the necessary upgrade.

Uber and all companies and institutions have to change their mindset. They are great innovators, disruptors that bring about great ideas, but they continue handling communication with their employees and with other actors in the same way it was handled in the era in which Ford invented the automobile mass-production line.

The slap in the face that Kalanick just received confronted him with reality: today we are all naked in a large glass showcase. Everything we say and that others say about our company is extremely relevant because it can be immediately amplified through social media.

Kalanick and all of us must understand that today, any Goliath can quickly become a David if he doesn’t follow the new codes. And these codes require us to think seriously about how to manage our relationships with what I call the “primary orbit”, which includes customers, employees and providers. Our interaction with them must be based on a shared purpose and must be safeguarded like gold.

Uber seemed to do this extremely well in its beginnings and it greatly benefited from social media, where it essentially became a modern Robin Hood. However, it neglected its employees in its primary orbit and has paid for it with the head of its founder.

Link to the original article in spanish

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