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No Mercy / No Malice: Enter Uber

16 June 2017

by

No Mercy No Malice

Enter Uber

I will miss Yahoo!. Specifically the board of directors, who paid their CEO $150-250M for cutting revenues 20% and EBIDTA 50%. And I’m tiring of calling Twitter’s board negligent — a part-time CEO … that makes sense. However, for every awful board door that closes, another opens. Enter Uber.

There’s been a lot of focus on Uber CEO Travis Kalanick the last couple weeks, and not enough on the board for allowing this bad sitcom to go on three seasons longer than it should (like Glee, True Blood, and Happy Days). A board really has two jobs:

1) to hire / fire the CEO, and

2) to decide if and when to sell the company.

Kalanick should have been fired three seasons ago, or kicked upstairs to Chairman. The board has shown poor judgment, letting a bad situation get worse. The leave of absence narrative just kicks the can down the road and demonstrates a lack of leadership from the board. This is groupthink / non-decision-making at its worst, trying to please everyone and have it all — please markets, keep Travis happy, and be viewed as taking issues seriously. Well it sucks to be a grownup, and directors are supposed to be the grownups in the (board) room. Make a damn decision. In my view, the correct narrative from the board to Kalanick:

— You’re no longer CEO — sideshow ends now.

— You are a genius, full stop … and we want you to remain as Chairman, responsible for crafting and communicating the firm’s vision.

— This can be your idea or ours, but (see above) you are no longer CEO.

Narrative to markets / consumers / employees:

— Travis is a genius and, in concert with the team, he’s built something world changing.

— As the firm enters a new stage, we need a CEO that all of us, including Travis, can learn from.

— We’ve asked Travis to stay on as Chairman, as his vision remains a formidable source of competitive advantage.

Travis not being at the all-hands announcing his leave of absence signals, in my view, the board and Travis are at war with one another. Kalanick’s memo saying he needed to work on Travis 2.0 to build the next-generation management team is evidence of how tone-deaf he is. Uber is now worth more than Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi, and thousands of families and investors are reliant on the firm and its leadership. It’s not about you, Travis, and the firm shouldn’t have to wait to see if frat-rock rehab takes effect, or you relapse.

Is Uber’s CEO a visionary responsible for building an amazing firm, or a CEO who lacks self-awareness? The answer appears to be yes. The board should show some backbone and recognize what got them here today isn’t going to get them where they need to be tomorrow. Sergey and Larry brought in Eric. Mark brought in Sheryl. It’s easy for a visionary to believe they can run the alphabet of skills in a company’s life cycle. Most can’t, and it’s the board’s responsibility to act when the company is at letter H with a CEO who’s still acting at D.

Will this controversy hurt Uber? Yes, but there will be a lag, and not where you think. Consumers talk a big game about social responsibility and then buy phones and little black dresses manufactured in factories where people kill themselves and pour mercury into the water. Uber has an outstanding product, and revenue growth will continue to accelerate. Where it hurts is the distraction among management, costing them the ability to attract and retain the best talent — where the war is won or lost in a digital age.

Board members, in addition to fiduciaries for shareholders, should be role models and mentors for CEOs. David Bonderman, the board member who made the brain-dead sexist remark at their all-hands on changing the culture (irony that will make your head explode), is a role model — stay with me. Mr. Bonderman is hugely successful, and a thoughtful person. He fucked up, owned it, and resigned from the board, so as not to create a sideshow. Travis, take notes.

Father’s Day

Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father, when in December 1907, the Monongah Mining Disaster in nearby Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children. Clayton suggested that her pastor, Robert Thomas Webb, honor all those fathers.

Wikipedia

George Thomas Galloway
My dad’s mother was a domestic servant in Sydney, Australia, to the Vickers family. The Vickers were industrialists, amassing a fortune manufacturing armaments. When she became pregnant on the “wrong side of the blanket” (Scotch for out of wedlock), the older of the Vickers heiresses offered to adopt the boy and give my grandmother passage home and a tidy sum to get established in Scotland. Margaret Galloway accepted, then rejected the offer, married, and immigrated back to Scotland with her husband and two-year-old son, George. In 1930s Scotland, my dad grew up in a household of economic anxiety, tobacco and alcohol abuse, and violence. At 17, he escaped to / joined The Royal Navy, where, after informing them he was a competent swimmer, he was assigned to Air-Sea Rescue. If a pilot was downed, a helicopter was dispatched. My dad’s job, if / once the airman was located, was to jump from the autogiro into the North Atlantic and satisfy two objectives:

— secure the airman (get winch on pilot and get him into helicopter); and

— survive (get out of the water).

My father’s home was the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, built by (wait for it) the Vickers. He sent half his pay home each week to build a foundation for a budding life. After four years in the Navy, he was granted an honorable discharge and returned home to discover his mother and father had spent his nest egg (see above: tobacco / alcohol abuse). Scotland has spectacular terrain and a history that makes for great movies. However, it’s a desperate place.

At 26 my father left Scotland for Canada. He met my mother at a dance for expats in Toronto, and they were married. Later that year, in an Austin Mini Metro (my mom eight months pregnant with me), they drove from Toronto to San Diego, as they read in The Globe and Mail that San Diego had been voted “city with nicest weather in North America.” My dad secured a job as a salesperson for Colgate Palmolive. The HR executive advocated to her superior that they waive the college degree requirement, as (no joke) “Tom has learned the language after only being in the country three weeks.”

My parents divorced when I was nine. My dad, charming, handsome, and armed with a Scottish accent was — in seventies California — able to think with, and listen to, his groin. People believe fidelity is correlated to morality. Maybe. However, it’s certainly inversely correlated to opportunity. Anybody marrying an athlete, actor, someone who gets most / all their self-esteem from their looks, or has a Scottish accent should assume that person will have sex with other people. My dad has been married four times. Note: we think this one is going to stick.

Like many kids of divorce, I inflate the goodness of one parent at the expense of the other. My dad came out on the wrong end of this stick. As a young adult, I resented my dad, as post-divorce his life, and his new family’s, got better, and mine and my mom’s got worse. Some of this was both of their doing, but most of it was out of their control. Heading into the last quartile of 20th-century America, a talented man with an 8th-grade education could be a salesman for a global firm and earn $40K/year. A talented woman with an 8th-grade education could be a secretary and earn $10K. The impact divorce has on children is meaningful. However, the strain on kids due to the institutionalized economic discrimination of mothers is profound. Young women with no children make 91 cents on the male dollar. Women with children make 71 cents.

As I hit my forties I decided to put the bullshit aside and appreciate the good things about my dad (there is a lot) and enjoy our relationship … which I do. I understand my father better than anybody on the planet, and in this way I’m closer to him than anybody else is. My dad was one decision (by a confused 19-year-old woman) away from being an heir to Vickers, Sons & Company. Instead he is self-made, possessing what most men want:

— memories of being a badass and spreading his seed to the four corners of the earth (see above: Air-Sea Rescue and four wives),

— satisfaction knowing he was more successful / relevant than his parents, and

— comfort that his kids are also successful / relevant, and hold him in regard.

At 87, my father has all these things. He swims every day, jumping into water, and surviving.

Life is so rich,
Scott

  • Mary Robertson

    A wonderful Father’s Day post, Scott. Bravo!

  • Tammy Allen

    My dad was a Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmer in WWII. He died last year at 90. He also saved Ronald Reagan’s life in a capsized boat accident in Malibu, CA. Great man. My dad not RR.

  • Sean Darragh

    Great wee read – thank you

  • Scott Trappe

    It takes honest reflection and guts to publicly share your complicated relationship with an all-too-imperfect father. I appreciate that you put his life in context–how it began and how it affected who you grew up to be. It’s easy to being condemning of people who have disappointed us, but it sounds like you have found peace with who he is. Congratulations to the both of you; he is lucky to have you as his son!

  • Nirvana

    You make me breathe better.

  • Dael

    I can’t remember why I sighed up for these emails. It was probably to get something free, or access to something. I do that a lot. I’ve been dreading their arrival – more horse shit and marketing, algorithmically made personal seeming. “Hey! Bob here from the store. Just wanted to let you know that I’m working on your satisfaction!!”

    If they’re all as good, as interesting and as thought-provoking as this one, I’ll be astonished and some part of my faith in adult humans will have been restored. Thank you very much.

  • Alvaro Zegarra

    These are outstanding, thought-provoking and wonderfully honest. I agree with Dael, at first I was expecting generic marketing waste, instead, we get Scott musing weekly about business and life. It is something to treasure and I hope to one day be lucky enough to take a class by him, where I hope to learn and be insulted –gladly–by him at the same time.

  • Bob Macmahon

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights Scott – the fluency and honesty of your introspective musings are a pleasure to read. I’m a teacher living on the Isle of Seil, a tiny island hanging off the west coast of Scotland and I should say that the desperation you refer to can be a universal and not geographically specific condition…Anyway, having spent this evening catching up on the astonishingly affecting movie ‘Boyhood’ and now reading your piece, I think I’m going to need a little, er, Scotch, while I assemble my thoughts and maybe take another tilt at rebuilding my own father/son relationship.

  • mariapetrova

    So beautiful. Love from New York.

  • Scott Galloway

    Bob, thanks for comment. Agree that this dynamic is not isolated. I too was moved by boyhood (movie). Inspiring that they had the vision to film it (over 13 years). Regards from NYC, Scott

  • Scott Galloway

    i’m so glad…

  • Scott Galloway

    Thanks Scott

  • Scott Galloway

    Sounds as if your dad had a rich life. S

  • Scott Galloway

    Thanks Mary

  • Ari Kestin

    Scott… too true. Yet most boards are ineffective and serve the ceo not shareholders. Uber’s fault is that their ceo is still stuck in pre Series A fightclub mode. Peace

  • Scott – I would never think it possible to blend two dissimilar topics such as Uber’s woes and the making of your family into one post, but you did it swimmingly. I especially like the family story.

  • makemineamac

    Love this guy! Glad to know you at least some sort of Canadian heritage too! From the Great White North!