The phone calls began late Friday among Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, and the ride-hailing company’s executives, as well as board members and a raft of lawyers. They were facing an emergency.
The problem was that Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive and a board member, had appointed two new directors — Ursula Burns, the former chief executive of Xerox, and John Thain, the former chief of Merrill Lynch — to the privately held company without informing them. The moves, which pushed the nine-member board to 11 people, gave Mr. Kalanick new potential allies on major decisions at Uber.
Mr. Kalanick’s actions were “disappointing,” Mr. Khosrowshahi wrote on Friday in a letter to employees that was obtained by The New York Times. “Anyone would tell you that this is highly unusual.”
The trigger for Mr. Kalanick’s move — one made possible by a board vote last year giving him control of three seats — was a proposal that Mr. Khosrowshahi and the investment bank Goldman Sachs, an Uber shareholder, brought to the board on Thursday. The proposal, which is set to be discussed by directors on Tuesday, includes measures that would shift the power on Uber’s board by reducing Mr. Kalanick’s voting clout, expanding Mr. Khosrowshahi’s powers and imposing a 2019 deadline on the company to go public, according to three people with knowledge of the proposal who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Parts of the proposal were also read to The Times.
Let me translate this into English, the investors realize that Kalanick has become toxic, and as a result is facing increased regulatory and media scrutiny.
In particular, people are beginning to notice that, “Uber has no conceivable path to profitability,” because once they rise prices to reach profitability, entrants re-enter the market, and suddenly they are not particularly special and unicornish any more.
The big investors want to go public before it is too late, and that means rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and then getting into a lifeboat before the rush starts.