And being with each other in a cohesive manner is not something Uber’s current board seems capable of either, given all the odd back-channeling and frequent miscommunications that seem to crop up.
While there was a recent dinner at San Francisco’s Garabaldi’s restaurant that included Huffington, Ling and two other Uber board members, TPG’s David Trujillo and Benchmark’s Matt Cohler, to try to create some level of comfort, there is a lot to repair.
Here’s a clue to how much: The continued media leakage from the CEO process. While this is not completely uncommon — the Microsoft CEO search got a lot of ink — what is unusual is how varying the accounts of the same meetings or circumstances are at Uber. In fact, they are often diametrically opposed to each other.
This is something that many who have been in touch with Uber have experienced. “Consensus is not something you are feeling is happening there,” said one person, which makes every possible move seem suspect.
(Have to seen the really complexly plotted spy thriller “Atomic Blonde,” where everyone seems to be lying and then lying about lying? Uber is more confusing.)
That’s why a recent attempt to discuss a funding offer involving both secondary sales and a new investment from Japanese investor SoftBank has been so riven. While I will not get into the particulars in this hairball of a story here — unless you really want to hear about transfer restrictions, tender offers and more right now — suffice it to say that it has turned into a drama about whose side SoftBank leader Masa Son will land on.
Let me be clear, this is before any investment, which really should not take place without the cooperation of the new CEO, even if there is some urgency in making sure SoftBank’s $100 billion fund does not favor only Uber’s rivals. Since it just made a big investment in Southeast Asia’s Grab, many at Uber remain fretful.
Also, a related cause of tension was a Bloomberg report that Benchmark was mulling selling all of its 10 percent stake in Uber to SoftBank, which sources said was not true. While the venture firm might sell some of its stake if any transaction takes place, sources said Benchmark was wary that such a story was meant to weaken it.
That might not be so far-fetched given the deep tension between Benchmark’s Bill Gurley — who left the Uber board in favor of his partner Cohler — and Kalanick and the level of mistrust that has developed over time.
“Every single act feels like it might have another meaning,” said one person familiar with the situation. “Even if it does not.”
What is all boils down to is the deep concerns around control of Uber’s fate: Who has it and who is angling for it.
That distrust has left the board at times in a kind of odd face-off that appears to be more perception than reality, once you really plum the depth of the concerns.
Consider the possible return of Kalanick as CEO, which most will finally admit is overblown unless he decides to go full throttle and end up in a legal fight with the company he founded. In reality, without the support of board members Ryan Graves and Garrett Camp, Kalanick has none of the kind of leverage than has been reported.
“Travis would have to blow it up completely to get his job back,” said one major investor, familiar with the cap table of Uber. “And maybe he is crazy enough to do that, but he’d better bring a lot more ammo.”
What I can say for sure is that the entire company is leaking like sieve and that the Trump White House has a tighter press ship. Which brings us back to the beginning — if Uber wants to move forward, it had better lose that meme and get back to building the kind of company its employees so desperately want to.
Said one of those top execs to me tonight: “When is this going to stop, so we can do our jobs?”
It’s a very good question for the Uber board. Whether they can do their only real duty as directors — hiring a CEO — and make that happen soon is unclear.
One silver lining: Anthony Scaramucci is currently busy with another gig.
—By Kara Swisher, Re/code.net.
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