Startup News & Analysis

“Sometimes it takes a punch in the face to see things clearly”: Uber chief speaks on company culture furore

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi has addressed the ride-sharing giant’s ongoing serious culture issues, following the resignation of HR chief Liane Hornsey last week and allegations against chief operating officer Barney Harford.

Speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2018 conference last week, Khosrowshahi admitted he overlooked internal issues while dealing with external challenges.

“We took on all the external challenges and I think we’ve done really, really well under those circumstances externally, and in hindsight I didn’t work as much as I had to internally,” he said.

“Sometimes it takes a punch in the face to see things clearly,” he added.

His comments also followed the widely reported news that Uber is being investigated by the US government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was leaked by an Uber employee.

“What’s coming out in the news is a symptom,” he said, of “a company that doesn’t yet, at all levels, really really trust that we’re going to do the right thing, not only externally but also internally.”

He stressed Uber’s internal culture is “radically better, and it’s very very different”, since he took over the chief role in August last year, replacing co-founder Travis Kalanick.

That’s despite allegations of Harford making insensitive comments towards women and minorities, and Hornsey’s departure following an investigation into her handling of racial discrimination complaints.

Khosrowshahi pointed to what he says are some positive aspects of Uber’s culture that he inherited as chief executive, namely the “ability to execute at incredibly high speed and effectiveness”, and making “big, brave bets”.

But there was also a “growth at any cost” mentality “that hurt us”, he said.

A company’s culture can be changed, Khosrowshahi said, “but it cannot change in a matter of months”.

“Cultures are not built overnight and certainly cultures are not changed overnight,” he added.

Now, Uber’s culture is “building on a lot of good that had been done, and making up for some not so good”, he said.

NOW READ: Ditching ‘culture fit’: Inclusive culture starts with inclusive hiring, says Atlassian’s Aubrey Blanche

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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