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2017-03-22 08:24:02
Uber Board Stands by Travis Kalanick as It Reveals Plans to Repair Its Image

SAN FRANCISCO — The board of Uber is confident in its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, board member Arianna Huffington said on Tuesday, providing a show of support as the embattled ride-hailing company seeks to repair its reputation.

Ms. Huffington made her remarks in a conference call with reporters that Uber announced only hours before. During the roughly 45-minute call, executives also laid out a multipart plan to get the reeling company back on track after a series of revelations about its business practices and internal unrest that have damaged its image.

Of paramount importance, the company stressed, is Uber’s search for a chief operating officer to help Mr. Kalanick. In addition, Uber is overhauling its human resources department, improving its relationships with drivers, and soliciting feedback from concerned employees. The company also plans to release a report on the diversity of its work force this month, and will conclude an investigation into its workplace culture by the end of April.

“The board is confident in Travis, and we are proceeding ahead with the search for the C.O.O.,” Ms. Huffington said during the call. “Put very simply, change starts at the top.”

Because Uber rarely puts together such calls for the news media, the one on Tuesday reflects how the company is working to seize control of its image after a rough start to the year. In recent weeks, Uber’s reputation was badly damaged after a former employee published a scathing blog post detailing what she said was a history of sexual harassment and systemic issues in the company’s human resources department. Separately, Uber faced criticism for its program to deliberately deceive law enforcement using a software tool called Greyball, The New York Times reported.

Mr. Kalanick, who helped found Uber in 2009, also came under fire for how he had influenced the culture of the company. After a video of Mr. Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver recently leaked on the internet, Mr. Kalanick apologized and said he would seek leadership assistance. Several executives, including president Jeff Jones, have since left the company.

Mr. Kalanick was not present during the conference call. Ms. Huffington, who joined Uber’s board last year, was joined on the call by Liane Hornsey, the recently hired head of human resources, and Rachel Holt, the head of Uber’s ride-hailing business in the United States and Canada.

In the call, Uber said it expected that Mr. Kalanick would be highly collaborative with any executive hires. Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist and longtime Uber board member, is helping to lead the executive search for the chief operating officer, as is Ms. Huffington.

Asked whether Mr. Kalanick would be willing to step down if asked, Ms. Huffington said the company’s leadership has not discussed the “hypothetical” situation.

“It’s clear that both Uber and the entire ride-sharing industry would not be where we are today without Travis,” Ms. Huffington said.

Beyond providing assistance to Mr. Kalanick, Uber said it had significant work to do to repair what appears to be a culture badly damaged by infighting and harassment.

Ms. Hornsey said Uber had held more than 100 “listening sessions” with employees across the company, and had set up a hotline for anonymous complaints from employees for sensitive subjects. She also noted the recent hiring of a global head of diversity, Bernard C. Coleman III. Uber plans to publish its first diversity report breaking down the gender and ethnic makeup of its work force by the end of March.

Uber also is working to change its feedback system in human resources, which many current and former employees had criticized as unfair and opaque.

“Too much time is spent looking backward rather than forward,” Ms. Hornsey said of the system. “We need to change it.”

A companywide investigation into Uber’s workplace practices, which is being conducted by Eric H. Holder Jr., the former United States attorney general, is expected to conclude by the end of April. Ms. Huffington said the company would honor the results of the investigation and abide by any changes recommended.

Despite Uber’s culture problems, Ms. Holt said the company’s business remains healthy. Last week in the United States, riders took more trips with Uber than in any previous week, she said.

“In our most mature country, we’ve grown faster in the first 10 weeks of 2017 than in the first 10 weeks of 2016,” Ms. Holt said during the call. “Looking at less mature regions like Latin America, trips were up 600 percent in February, year on year.”

Uber, which has raised billions of dollars in capital, is privately valued at close to $70 billion.

Employees and investors were shaken early this year when a grass-roots campaign to delete the app sprung up, following concerns that Uber was trying to capitalize on a New York taxi work stoppage. About half a million people requested deleting their Uber accounts over the course of that week, according to three people familiar with the company’s internal metrics who asked not to be named because the numbers are confidential.

Those deletions have slowed drastically in recent weeks, and the company continues to add new users on a weekly basis, one of the people said.

Aside from internal changes, Uber said it would continue to work on improving relationships with drivers, who are freelancers that the company does not employ full-time.

“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers,” Ms. Holt said, noting changes in how Uber would treat rider feedback and how the company considers a driver’s history on the platform.