Uber Is Said to Favor Whitman for CEO as Immelt Withdraws
(Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. is moving closer to picking a new chief executive officer, who will fill the seat left vacant for more than two months since the abrupt ouster of co-founder Travis Kalanick.
The board is holding daily meetings to interview remaining candidates and could cast a final vote as soon as Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, according to people familiar with the deliberations. Despite repeatedly denying the prospect that she would take the job, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. CEO Meg Whitman is a board favorite after presenting her vision for the ride-hailing company to the group on Saturday, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.
General Electric Co. Chairman Jeffrey Immelt was another top contender and met with the board in recent days, the people said. But Immelt, 61, pulled himself out of consideration Sunday in a Twitter post, following a similar tack to Whitman. “I have decided not to pursue a leadership position at Uber,” Immelt wrote, adding that he has “immense respect” for the company and its founders.
Immelt lacked support from some of Uber’s major backers. Privately, Immelt groused that directors were in constant conflict, and he felt particularly at odds with venture capital firm Benchmark, which is Uber’s largest shareholder, said a person familiar with his thinking. Benchmark led the charge to remove Kalanick as chief in June and is suing him for fraud. Kalanick has said the lawsuit is a “fabrication” and claims Benchmark is using intimidation to push him off the board of the company he helped create.
Representatives for Uber, Benchmark, Immelt and Whitman declined to comment. Uber has been trying to fill the leadership vacuum left by the departure of Kalanick and to restore confidence in the business after months of tumult.
The ride-hailing giant, valued at about $70 billion, faces a lawsuit over self-driving car technology from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and a U.S. probe into the use of software to deceive law enforcement officials. Company investigations into Uber’s office culture found instances of sexual harassment and other violations that led to dismissals of more than 20 employees. Kalanick was embroiled in scandals involving the mishandling of an Indian woman’s medical records and a verbal altercation with an Uber driver. The events led to his ouster as CEO under pressure from some of the company’s major investors, who alleged that he put Uber in legal jeopardy.
Whitman, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for California governor in 2010 before taking over Hewlett Packard, was an early front-runner for the Uber CEO job. But Whitman, 61, rebuffed advances by Uber’s search committee after her candidacy was made public by Bloomberg and other publications. “The speculation about my future and Uber has become a distraction,” she wrote last month on Twitter. “I am fully committed to HPE and plan to remain the company’s CEO.”
Since then, Whitman has maintained publicly that she will not take the job, including in an interview last week with the Wall Street Journal. However, she met in person with members of the board on Saturday and has emerged as the likely pick, two people familiar with the matter said. Uber is weighing at least one other person, whose name couldn’t be learned.
Immelt, who stepped down as GE’s CEO at the beginning of this month, faced opposition from some of Uber’s biggest investors, including Benchmark. The VC firm has supported Whitman. Immelt’s critics said he lacks sufficient technology experience and failed to impress investors at GE.
More recently, Immelt’s decision to publicly defend his involvement on President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council two days before it disbanded was seen as troublesome. Uber’s long year of controversies began in January when Kalanick tried to justify his position on another Trump council before ultimately resigning that post after customers staged a boycott.
The next chief will have plenty to do. In addition to a tattered brand and various outstanding legal risks, the company is negotiating an investment deal from SoftBank Group Corp. and other backers worth as much as $12 billion. There is also a raft of vacancies in Uber’s senior ranks. The company has been looking for chiefs of finance, marketing and operations, among other roles.