Taking over a crisis-hit business requires special qualities in a leader, not least the humility to admit things went wrong, apologise and fix the company
When the board of under-fire Uber parachuted in Dara Khosrowshahi this August, following disgraced founder Travis Kalanick’s gruesome end, few envied the new chief executive’s mission.
With the ride-hailing giant battling multiple crises – accusations of stealing technology, sexual misconduct, bullying and the potential withdrawal of licences in key markets, on top of a cluster of executive-level departures – the Iranian-American faced a colossal uphill struggle to repair the brand’s reputation.
One early move that earned worldwide respect was an admission of culpability. In late-September, Transport for London revoked Uber’s licence to operate, declaring the organisation was not “fit and proper”.
Mindful that the company has 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in the capital city, making it the largest base of its operations in Europe, Mr Khosrowshahi was required to be pitch-perfect with his response. “On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we have made,” he offered.
Such humility represented a seismic step-change in message when compared to the brazen and bullish braggadocio of the 48-year-old’s predecessor. Further, in early-November, Mr Khosrowshahi presented a revised set of core values to Uber staff in a bid to lance the festering culture that had developed in Mr Kalanick’s reign.
David Alexander, founder and managing director of PR consultancy Calacus, agrees. “The fundamental tenet is authenticity, particularly in this world of smartphones and 24/7 news.
"Saying one thing and doing another, while refusing to acknowledge that you have problems is the biggest mistake a new CEO can make,” he says.
Mr Alexander points to the achievements of Arnold W. Donald, CEO of Carnival Cruises since July 2013, a year after one of its vessels sank, killing 32 passengers and crew. “He is a great example of a CEO who came in and steadied the ship – pun intended,” he says.
“He immediately undertook a review of the company’s operations and, as well as addressing its shortcomings, focused on growth and innovation which has seen share values rise.”
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