At its inception, Uber touted itself as a shining example of the “sharing economy” described by Jeremy Rifkin, in this now famous book, The Third Industrial Revolution. As time has passed the reality has been radically at odds with a sharing economy. Among the many issues that have emerged has been the legacy of Uber’s ugly corporate culture, secret apps used to confound regulators, and to intimidate journalists, a Justice Department investigation of illegal practices, including 200 Uber employees conspiring together to attack Lyft’s operations. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost, as municipalities around the world have begun to regain control of transportation policy within their jurisdictions, and the inflated valuations of these unicorns begin to deflate.
Another Silicon Valley reckoning is on the horizon. We have seen cyclical events like this before, the 2001 bubble burst being the most recent memorable reckoning. The talk in 2001 was about too much “dumb money.” The coming reckoning, however, is on a massive, unprecedented scale, fueled by the same excess of global capital that has fueled the bubbles in housing markets in attractive locations around the World. The problems with Uber, Travis Kalanick, and the now obvious difficulty of the Uber Board of Directors to exercise meaningful governance should have been the “canary in the coal mine.” CNBC’s reporting on the excessive Silicon Valley “unicorn” valuations and media reports that New Enterprise Associates would divest $1 Billion in startup investments that cannot be made liquid have made the situation blatantly obvious. After a long silence, the Wall Street Journal has finally joined the reporting on the crisis. What more does one need to take to the exit?
In an extraordinary revelation today by Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and the writer for The New Yorker who broke this story, it was revealed that Harvey Weinstein hired a female Israeli ex-Mossad agent via a private firm, Black Cube, and who used false identities and secret recording devices to intimidate Rose MacGowan and other female accusers of Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Farrow appeared tonight on PBS Newshour in an interview by Judy Woodruff to detail his investigative findings. This has also now been reported by the Washington Post and other journals.
Amid another leak of documents revealing large-scale international tax avoidance, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said Monday that tax avoidance was fast becoming a thing of the past. “When we’re talking about the ‘Panama Papers’ or ‘Paradise Papers’we’re talking about a legacy that is fast disappearing,” Angel Gurria said. Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, Gurria said governments were working hard to stop tax avoidance and evasion.
For over a year now I have blogged here about the red flags flying about Travis Kalanick and Uber. Many investigative articles have been published over this time, in the New York Times and other publications, which have raised disturbing questions about Uber, Kalanick and some members of his team. The Board of Directors has finally taken action but it feels like its a day late and a dollar short. Why did it take so long? I have bluntly used the epithet that “Uber is Trump,” but now on reflection, it is more apt to describe Uber as Enron the sequel, and “deja vu all over again.” Remember the audio of two Enron electricity traders laughing about “screwing grandma?” That is Uber.
Many observers and former employees say it is run like an offshore sweatshop, complete with stressful bullying No quality customer service can come from such a dysfunctional work environment. The gig economy philosophy is apparent with employee’s reduced to total submission to draconian work rules, total surveillance of all voice and written communication, and apparent high turnover. Burnout is common. Three years ago, there was something of a Sykes employee revolt, when a number of supervisory employees were fired, and an anonymous broadcast email was posted describing the poor management practices. Outsourcing like this has been a common means to cut costs in the wireless industry.
Humility and Leadership Go Hand in Hand
There is a fundamental truth here. Pope Francis and the Harvard Business School are aligned.