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Uber’s CEO to take leave amid inquiry into workplace culture

By MIKE ISAAC

SAN FRANCISCO – Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, said he would take a leave of absence from the ride-hailing service after an investigation into the company concluded that Uber must repudiate its aggressive startup culture.

The developments were part of a flurry of actions at Uber on Tuesday morning, which began with an internal email from Kalanick right before a staff meeting got underway. In the email to employees, Kalanick said he would take a leave of absence to work on himself and reflect on building a “world class leadership team” for the company. He did not specify how long he would be away.

Minutes later, Uber released 13 pages of recommendations to change the company, which were the result of an investigation into its culture conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm, Covington & Burling.

The recommendations included limiting Kalanick’s responsibilities by reallocating some of his duties, with an increased emphasis on a chief operating officer at the company. Uber also should appoint an independent chairman and create an oversight committee on the board, in an effort to bolster the checks and balances on management, according to the recommendations.

The proposed changes amounted to a rejection of the methods and culture that Uber has used to build itself into a nearly $70 billion company that has upended the transportation status quo worldwide. Under Kalanick, Uber flouted rules and regulations to bring its ride-summoning service to hundreds of cities, prized growth above all else, and often turned a blind eye to corporate misbehavior.

That ballooned into a crisis starting in February, when a former employee wrote a blog post detailing what she said was a history of sexual harassment and lack of response from management at the company. The post set off a deluge of other complaints from staff about Uber’s culture, exposing a toxic environment.

Uber has since moved to clean up the situation. It has fired 20 employees in the last few months for transgressions including sexual harassment. Emil Michael, a top lieutenant of Kalanick’s, left the company this week. And many other executives have departed, leaving something of a leadership void at the company.

“Implementing these recommendations will improve our culture, promote fairness and accountability, and establish processes and systems to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” Liane Hornsey, Uber’s chief of human resources, said in a statement.

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