Churn at Uber HQ will dent its brand equity in India

Josey Puliyenthuruthel June 12, 2017 3 min

Travis-Kalanick-UBER-CEO

 

Amit Jain, president of Uber India and South Asia
Amit Jain, president of Uber India and South Asia

Last year, two weeks before Christmas, Travis Kalanick flew in to New Delhi for meetings. Accompanying the Uber CEO were his then No. 2 and Uber’s president Jeff Jones, and Rachel Whetstone, head of public policy and communications. They were to meet a small group of editors for dinner. I was part of the invitees.

Minutes before he walked in, Kalanick’s handler sprung a Chatham House rules condition: journalists could use any information from the meeting but not attribute it anyone. We editors were unhappy, and one even decided not to attend.

Cut to six months later. Jones and Whetstone are no longer with Uber and Kalanick, reports indicate, may be asked to take a break from his CEO job at Uber. Jones quit in March citing differences over “beliefs and the approach to leadership” and Whetstone left less than a month after.

Ride-hailing leader Uber is being put through the wringer in the US with scandals rocking the company one after another. A board meeting yesterday is said to have accepted all the recommendations of a committee tasked with probing the company’s trouble culture. On the cards may even be a resignation by Emil Michael, Kalanick’s right-hand man, and Kalanick himself going on a leave of absence of three months.

Uber has not made any announcement after the board meeting and is expected to do so before employees on Tuesday.

How does the Uber HQ being roiled affect its operations in India, its second biggest market by number of rides after the US?

At the mid-December dinner was another key Uber executive: India CEO Amit Jain. His fate, people familiar with the company said, may not to be affected despite a 2014 rape case in New Delhi being among the recent controversies that has come up at the Uber headquarters. President of business for Asia Pacific Eric Alexander, who was deeply involved with setting up Uber in India, is yet another casualty of alleged wrongdoings at the company. Recode reported that Alexander’s exit from the company may have been linked to obtaining the medical records and case file of a woman raped in an Uber cab in New Delhi in December 2014.

Jain joined in June 2015 and it is not clear whether Alexander obtained the documents — supposed to be private and part of the investigation — under the Indian CEO’s tenure. Jain reports to Andrew Macdonald, regional general manager, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The India CEO has Kalanick’s ear on most things on operations here and shares a personal rapport with him over time spent in Los Angeles. An alum of IIT Delhi and Stanford University, Jain spent years there with stints at Rent.com, TPG Capital, and McKinsey.

But, Uber India’s image will definitely take a hit. Rival Ola has already slammed Uber after it came to light that Alexander had obtained case papers from India in the rape case.

A lawyer said the revelations of misdemeanours at Uber in the US will be noticed in India. Whenever a company board decides to suspend or permanently remove an executive, it has to be detailed out, Rajan Nair, a Supreme Court advocate said. “In Uber’s case, policies on sexual harassment will be similar worldwide, and if the company hasn’t been able address that in the home country, it will definitely impact pending cases in India or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “The court always looks at other matters or concern raised on a company in other parts of the world.”

Uber is fighting both Ola and Meru Cabs in Indian courts, and has battled taxi drivers and state administrations. Worse still, the Delhi rape victim’s attorney has indicated that another case against Uber may be in the making. He is “investigating and researching all potential avenues to address this situation and expect to have more information next week,” he told USA Today.

 

Correction: The story was updated at 8:45am June 13, 2017 to say that Uber India CEO Amit Jain reports to Alan Macdonald, regional general manager, Asia Pacific and Latin America. It earlier said Jain reported to Eric Alexander, president of business for Asia. The reporting error is regretted.


               

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