Travis Kalanick’s Uber PR Problem

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By Alex Altman

It’s been a bumpy ride for Uber so far in 2017.

In January, the company was excoriated for not disavowing President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order — a decision that spurred 200,000 customers to delete the app. But in some ways, what happened a month later was even more damaging to Uber’s reputation.

On February 27, dash cam footage showed CEO Travis Kalanick PR arguing with Uber driver Fawzi Kamel over prices. In the video, Kamel complains that the company’s oft-changing policies had caused him to go bankrupt. “I lost $97,000 because of you,” he told Kalanick. “I’m bankrupt because of you.”

“You know what?” Kalanick replied. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh*t. They blame everything in their life on someone else.”
The video exploded on social media; notably on YouTube where it debuted as the platform’s top trending video a day after the incident. It now has more than 4 million views.

On February 28, Kalanick wrote an email to his staff in which he admitted that he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”
While it was a bad moment for Kalanick, he’s certainly not the only CEO who’s faced ridicule in the last year. Here are a few other CEOs who’ve taken PR hits:

Heather Bresch, Mylan
Heather_BreschIn May 2016, Bresch faced outrage for the surging price of her company’s signature product, EpiPen. When Mylan purchased the device, which is essential for people with life-threatening allergies, the price was $57. Nearly a decade later it was $609. The controversy dominated the news cycle for several days, especially after Bresch said that EpiPen was priced fairly. “Price and access exist in a balance,” she told lawmakers, “and we believe we have struck that balance.”

John Stumpf, Wells Fargo
In September 2016, Wells Fargo was accused of opening more than 2 million bank accounts or credit cards for customers without their knowledge or consent. Almost as infuriating as the scandal was the lack of accountability Stumpf seemed to take. During a federal hearing, he deflected blame on low-level employees. Senator Elizabeth Warren condemned Stumpf for his “gutless leadership.” The embattled CEO ultimately stepped down in October.

Darren Huston, Priceline
Darren HustonIn April 2016, a whistleblower told Priceline’s board that Huston was having an extramarital affair with an employee. After the accusation was verified, Huston was forced to resign. Fortunately, Huston’s indiscretion didn’t have a negative effect on business; Priceline Group stock has risen almost 500 points since his dismissal.

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