Travis Kalanick to step down as Uber CEO? Sure, ok, I'll bite...
Jeff Jones just quit, Google's lawyers are getting closer, a successful IPO seems like a distant fantasy and god only knows what scandal will emerge next.
Predicting how Travis Kalanick will respond to Uber's towering pile of disasters is like predicting what could happen if a wild goose suddenly found itself locked overnight in a mortuary. Endless possibilties, but none of them good.
The latest suggestion, buried in this BBC story and citing two sources, is that after finding a safe new COO, Kalanick plans to oversee an orderly transfer of power before stepping down as CEO. On the list of outcomes this one seems as unlikely to me as the goose sweeping the the morgue floor before waddling calmly for the door... but this is the BBC so we have to at least entertain the possibility it's true.
Here are just a few of the questions naturally stemming from Kalanick resigning just as a new COO arrives...
Will the COO immediately become the CEO, or will a new CEO be appointed too?
If the COO becomes CEO then why not stop dicking around and just recruit a new CEO now? Is that what's really happening behidn the scenes but, for some batshit reason, Kalanick doesn't want to admit it publicly?
If there's a new CEO to be found too then...
3a) Why on earth would anyone take the COO role knowing there'll be a new sheriff in town who will want to hire his own people?
3b) Will that person come from outside the company, or be elevated from Travis' “A Team”
If the new CEO comes from within then why on earth would anyone take the COO role knowing that, with Travis (likely) as Chairman and a COO absolutely loyal to that Chair, it'll be impossible to rid the company of the toxic culture that got it into this mess
And which A-Team member? Emil Michael? The dude who threatened Sarah and might now be implicated in the Otto mess? Ryan Graves – someone else who, at the very least, is going to have some questions to answer too from Google's lawyers? Thuan Pham?
If, then, the new CEO comes from outside the company are we honestly supposed to believe Travis plans to hand over his baby to two completely new parents? Why would he do that, given there's nobody on the board with the power to force his hand?
Who in their right mind, inside or outside the company, would want to run Uber right now? This isn't a company with a business or product problem? This isn't a Yahoo-style ego play. This is a company that's top-to-bottom rotten, that alumni are missing off their resumes to avoid being tarred by association, that's about to face a gigantic lawsuit that might shut down the business division it was banking on to save the company. Shit, this is a company still in the midst of a major investigation to figure out what other scandals might be lurking. Why the hell would you take that job? The morgue goose wouldn't take that job.
Which brings me to 8), which might just be the craziest question of all: Does this mean Garrett is coming back?
Remember Garrett Camp? The guy who founded Uber. The guy who has managed to disappear into the shadows, growing (at least) as rich as Travis but with absolutely none of the blowback. If you're a journalist in Silicon Valley you likely answered “no” to that question – judging from recent reporting, nobody remembers Garrett or thinks he should any way answer for the horror show that is his company. To read and watch the media coverage of Uber you'd think it was all Travis from start to finish and that there was nobody – nobody! – who could possibly reign him in.
So is this his moment? His Jack Dorsey or Returning Steve Jobs or whatever the right analogy is moment when Garrett “What did I miss?” Camp rides back into the company, is installed as a safe, interim CEO while Travis gets bumped to Chairman.
The possibility seems ridiculous given Camp's virtual disappearance from the Uber universe in recent years. But at this point, and given what we know about Kalanick's ego, it is also literally the only outcome that makes any kind of sense. By installing Garrett as CEO, Kalanick keeps the control of Uber pretty much as it already was. If they play it right, even the mystery new COO might not realize what's happening. And you can bet your life the headlines will express shock and delight at a safe pair of hands arriving to steady the Uber ship. Next stop IPO!
And when Travis appears at Re/Code (which of course he's doing, because that's where sociopaths go to do their laundry), probably alongside Arianna Huffington and a basket of kittens, he'll be congratulated for taking the first steps towards becoming a real grown up (Travis Kalanick is 40 years old) and on putting Uber back on the road to recovery.
I say that's the only outcome that makes sense in Travis World, and it is. But let's not forget who we're talking about here. It's equally likely that Emil Michael becomes CEO, or Robert Gates, or Eric Trump, or Ivanka Trump. Maybe Uber will announce it's selling itself to Didi, or Google, or Russia. Or perhaps it'll just have a full scale freak out, honking and screeching and knocking over the embalming fluid with its wings before pecking out a cadaver's eyeball and chowing down on its...
...wait, sorry, that's the goose again.
Then again, who the hell knows?