Four ways Uber's new CEO can salvage its decaying reputation

After two months of intense speculation, former Expedia chief Dara Khosrowshahi was officially confirmed as the new Uber CEO.

Ditch the start-up mentality, Connor Mitchell tells Uber
Ditch the start-up mentality, Connor Mitchell tells Uber

With the dust still settling from Travis Kalanick’s resignation, after he was forced out in June under the weight of mounting shareholder pressure, Khosrowshahi’s arrival comes in the wake of a volatile period for the ride-hailing giant.

Rocked by a series of sexual harassment scandals, legal feuds with its drivers, regulatory obstacles, sour investor relations, and years of losses, Uber has battled to repair its reputation.

But what can this new head honcho do to tune out the noise and restore faith in this tarnished brand?

First, ditch the startup rhetoric.

Khosrowshahi must position the firm as a serious corporate player. As founder, Kalanick presided over Uber’s stratospheric rise – an heroic achievement. But Khosrowshahi’s language and tone now needs to reflect that of the leader of a major global company, as opposed to a scrappy startup.

Success depends on his ability to placate Kalanick’s faithful internally; not departing from their guru’s ideology too swiftly, whilst continuing to reassure investors externally of his profit-making intentions.

Second, tackle the toxicity head-on.

On Kalanick’s watch, Uber was an allegedly infamous den of sexist behaviour and all-round macho culture. Departure from Kalanick’s "bro-like" leadership style is the key.

Uber has already done the sensible thing from a PR standpoint by launching an internal investigation into its toxic culture, but efforts need to be redoubled. Its new helmsman must do everything he can to prevent a total ethical meltdown.

Appointing a right-hand woman would be a smart move for Khosrowshahi, as well as implementing both internal schemes to reinforce the importance of gender equality, and establishing external programmes to encourage more women to join the tech sector.

Third, embrace its army of drivers.

How Khosrowshahi communicates with the legions of drivers globally will be the key to his long-term success.

A string of legal challenges, the threat of replacement by driverless cars, and the general sense that they are the forgotten employees on the front line, has not led to the most affable relationship between Uber’s drivers and its corporate wing.

Openly welcoming the decision to make them fully fledged employees, and in doing so publicly acknowledge their business value, would do the world of good. Khosrowshahi’s internal communications strategy must create a strong sense of inclusivity throughout the organisation.

Fourth, establish clear channels for political dialogue.

Gig-economy firms have typically struggled to coexist with regulators. Issues over taxation and engagement with municipal taxi outlets have seen Uber consistently locking horns with political institutions worldwide. By actively reaching out to legislators, expressing an appetite for cooperation at all levels, Khosrowshahi can continue to position the firm as a leader of positive change.

As Uber matures as a brand, critically Khosrowshahi must ensure the qualities responsible for generating its disruptive and explosive success don’t lead to an external collapse, akin to the internal implosion that squeezed his predecessor out of the door.

Connor Mitchell is a senior programme executive at Hotwire PR

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