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Uber Chief apologizes after video shows him arguing with driver

  • COURTESY REUTERS VIA NYT

    Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief, at the Oscars Vanity Fair Party this week.

SAN FRANCISCO >> Travis Kalanick, the chief executive of Uber, apologized Tuesday after a video showing him in a verbal altercation with a driver for the ride-hailing company became public.

In the video, recorded this month and reported on earlier by Bloomberg, Kalanick is seen in the back seat of an Uber car with two women. When they reach their destination, he begins talking with the driver, Fawzi Kamel.

During the exchange, Kamel complains about what he says is Uber’s history of lowering earnings for drivers, and Kalanick says Kamel should “take responsibility” for his own problems.

The conversation quickly becomes heated, with Kalanick using obscenities and generally being dismissive of Kamel’s complaints.

Hours after the video became public, Kalanick delivered an apology in the form of an email to employees addressing Kamel, “as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.”

“To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement,” Kalanick wrote in the email, which the company later posted to its public blog. “My job as your leader is to lead, and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.”

The company said it had reached out to Kamel and hoped to arrange a conversation between him and Kalanick.

The episode comes at a difficult time for Uber, which has been caught up in several controversies over the past two months. In January, users and employees protested Kalanick’s decision to join an economic advisory council for President Donald Trump. After a week of intense backlash, Kalanick said he would give up the position.

Uber faced further tumult last month when Susan Fowler, a former employee, wrote a public blog post detailing what she described as her experience being subjected to sexual harassment while having the company’s human resources department ignore her complaints.

Uber has opened an internal investigation into Fowler’s claims; Eric H. Holder Jr., former attorney general, is leading the inquiry. Since Fowler published her blog post, dozens of current and former employees have come forward to detail their own problems with Uber’s aggressive workplace culture.

The apology issued by Kalanick on Tuesday is the first instance in which he has admitted significant problems with his hard-charging leadership style.

“It’s clear this video is a reflection of me — and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick wrote in his email. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

Kalanick did not specify in the email what sort of help he would seek.

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