Jun 22, 2017

Primack's last word on the Kalanick exit (for now)

AP Photo/Eric Gay, file

The Uber saga continued yesterday, with the resignation of Benchmark partner Bill Gurley from the company's board of directors. He'll be replaced by Matt Cohler who, alongside fellow Benchmarker Peter Fenton, actually negotiated Travis Kalanick's resignation on Tuesday night — namely because Gurley and Kalanick are no longer on speaking terms. In fact, a source says that Kalanick requested Gurley step down so that the board can be more functional going forward (remember, Travis remains a director). Here are other key points:

  • Money: Kalanick obviously isn't hurting, with sources saying that he's received multi-million dollar performance bonuses in each of the past few years. But remember that he's never sold a single share of Uber stock, so he still has a strong financial incentive to help maintain value (versus trying to burn down the house). Moreover, almost everyone I've spoken with believes that his continued board presence is vital to the company's future success.
  • Partners: Multiple sources say that the relationship between Kalanick and Arianna Huffington became problematically close, with Kalanick not really speaking to any other directors between the time he took a leave of absence and Tuesday's investor revolt. In short, Kalanick isolated himself with Huffington as buffer — and other directors were ticked off by things like this NY Times puff piece on Huffington (which they viewed as being primarily about personal brand promotion).
  • Speaking of which: There was a ridiculous NY Post story yesterday suggesting that Huffington was leading the CEO search, via her advocacy for Sheryl Sandberg. To be sure, most everyone at Uber would kill for Sandberg to take the role, but Huffington isn't in any particular charge of recruiting (a role really led by Gurley, who was expected to remain involved). Just to prove the point, that same story later suggests Huffington nemesis Tim Armstrong as a candidate. No way she's recruiting him (nor do I think he's a serious candidate, given the upcoming Yahoo integration that he spearheaded at AOL).
  • Timeline: It is important to note that Kalanick's behavior and choices in the time between taking leave and Tuesday were determinative for many of the revolting investors, although specifics remain hard to come by. But know this: Had Kalanick just taken a couple of weeks at the beach with his phone turned off, he's probably still CEO.
  • Other moves: TPG's David Trujillo will take that firm's board seat, following the resignation of David Bonderman over sexist statements made at last week's all-hands. Worth noting that TPG didn't sign the investor letter on Tuesday, although it was considered to be generally supportive of the effort (seems the letter's specific language was at issue).
  • CEO candidates? Here are some options.
  • Counterpoint: Conventional wisdom is that Kalanick's resignation is a win for Silicon Valley women, but not everyone agrees. Check out this Facebook post from Uber product manager Margaret-Ann Seger: "I'm angry, sad, flustered, confused, but mostly just heartbroken."
  • Reconsidering: Prior to Kalanick's resignation, I wrote a piece questioning whether Uber's board should have hired Eric Holder in the first place. Not whether it needed to investigate sexual harassment claims or that it needed cultural changes -- but rather if the Holder investigation structure was the best way to proceed. Read it here.

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