Uber puts principles before persuasion

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Or perhaps Travis Kalanick’s resignation from Trump’s business advisory council yesterday signals an understanding that this is about far more than winning a race in New York. Pamela Whitby follows up on yesterday’s Tnooz report

Call it needing his sleep, bowing to pressure or taking a stand, after a week in the vortex of a social media storm Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has quit Donald Trump’s business advisory council.

The council of high profile executives, that includes high-level executives from Pepsi, IBM, Disney, General Electric, General Motors and Tesla, was due to meet in Washington today.

As yesterday's Tnooz report  highlights, the move comes at the end of a week of public scrutiny and criticism after a misjudged tweet posted shortly before last Saturday's strike, called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, got underway. The union, whose members include 19,000 largely Muslim and immigrant members, had called on drivers of all New York cabs to halt service for an hour between 6pm and 7pm local time in solidarity with people being denied entry at JFK, and across the US.

Although it later emerged that the suspension of surge pricing only kicked in after the strike, Uber tweet was perceived as an attempt to break the strike. Despite the company’s swift denials, and a detailed Facebook post from Kalanick outlining the company’s position, the #deleteUber campaign on Twitter went viral. This quickly spread to other social media platforms like Facebook where outraged users posted step-by-step guides for deleting Uber's app and called for a shift to Lyft. 

On Monday this resulted in two 'firsts' for Uber. The firm was forced to automate the deletion process of its app, which until then could only be done manually. And secondly, for the first time ever, downloads of Lyft’s app surpassed that of Uber in the app store; this despite the fact that it later emerged that an ardent Trump supporter in the form of financier Carl Icahn had invested $100 million in the San Francisco-based rival.

Kalanick also faced criticism for sitting on Trump’s business advisory council but in a letter to employees yesterday, announcing his resignation, he wrote: ‘Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that’.

Yesterday Kalanick, who has never been shy of controversy, notified Trump that he would stepping down, having clearly thought long and hard about his decision.

It's an interesting move because, though deeply unpopular with some people, sitting on the business council should not, necessarily, have been a major issue for Uber. “After all, Elon Musk one of the most respected and well-known entrepreneurs of our time is an advisor to Donald Trump,” says Jodie Cook, MD of JC Social Media, and one of Forbes’ 2017 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs in Europe.

According to the Financial Times this morning, Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has defended his decision to remain on the business council and along with others will express objections to the recent executive order on immigration. “Attending,” he said, “does not mean that I agree with actions by the administration”.

So what is behind Kalanick's sudden decison? Only this week he indicated how important it had been for Uber to engage with government and politicans of all political persuasions across the world. So why not use this experience to influence and persuade at home? 

Being tied in any way to a President that seems hell bent on destroying diplomatic relations around the world hardly seems ideal for a company with such global ambitions

Perhaps Kalanick just wants to avoid any further public scrutiny. More likely, however, is that he has probably recognised that his energy will be better spent focusing on the business; Trump, after all, seems to be a president that is not for turning.

Admittedly, snubbing the President Trump may have some implications on his deeply divided home turf but, if Kalanick wants to continue to conquer the world of ground transportation, he needs to tread carefully. Uber is already active in 81 countries and 581 cities (Mexico City being one of its busiest!). As Bill Beckler co-founder of AlltheRooms.com said yesterday: "If switching [to Lyft or others] is so easy for customers, and the companies are viewed as comparable today – even though Uber is 10x bigger – then it is game over for this ‘market clout’ concept".

Being tied in any way to a president that seems hell bent on destroying diplomatic relations around the world hardly seems ideal for a company with such global ambitions.

For more views from social experts and travel industry commentators read yesterday’s full Tnooz analysis here. 

Main Image Credit: Michael Curry in New York

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