Huffington credited Uber co-founder and ousted boss Travis Kalanick with driving the startup to a nearly $70 billion valuation.
However new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi is the steady hand needed now on the wheel, Huffington said late Monday at the Wall Street Journal D.Live conference in Laguna Beach, California.
“I totally believe that going forward, we will end the cult of the top performer,” Huffington said in an on-stage interview at the event.
“Why did Harvey Weinstein last that long?” she asked rhetorically, referring to the front-page Hollywood sexual abuse scandal.
“The cult of someone who delivers results,” she said, a cult that is also “prevalent” in Silicon Valley.
Uber launched an “urgent investigation” early this year after an engineer who worked at the company until late 2016 alleged that her manager made sexual advances shortly after she joined.
She wrote in a blog post that she complained to more senior managers and the company’s human resources department, but was told that it was the man’s “first offense” and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing a “high performer.”
The woman said she met other female Uber engineers who said they had experienced similar harassment.
Uber hired former attorney general Eric Holder to review workplace conditions after the allegations. The probe resulted in firings and an outline for needed changes.
– War talk –
Huffington, a wealthy businesswoman, author, and co-founder of the Huffington Post news site, said that when she joined the Uber board in early 2016 the startup “worshipped at the altar of hyper-growth,” with stellar results absolving bad behavior.
Cultural aspects at Uber that need changing include finding bonding activities other than boozing, she said.
Uber also set out to cut back combative references for work talk, such as “One throat to choke.”
“How about one person to hold responsible for something?” Huffington said,
“My point is, there is a lot of ‘Art of War’ language.”
As a symbolic gesture, Uber renamed its “war room” headquarters the “peace room,” Huffington said.
She described the atmosphere at Uber now as “crazy,” but in a good way.
– $100 billion gorilla –
Uber hired Expedia boss Dara Khosrowshahi as its new chief executive in August, in the hopes he can steer the ride-sharing service away from the string of controversies it has faced in the past year.
“Dara has the perfect balance of talents, including being unflappable,” Huffington said.
Khosrowshahi is also trimming expensive programs as he prepares Uber for a stock market debut by 2019, according to Huffington.
The new CEO’s challenges include conflicts with regulators and taxi operators, a cut-throat company culture, and board members feuding with investors over Kalanick.
Uber’s board of directors early this month approved a plan that reins in the influence of Kalanick — who retains a seat on the board — and opens the door to a colossal investment by Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank.
“SoftBank is the $100 billion gorilla in the ride-sharing industry,” Huffington said, referring to the dizzying amount the Japanese financial giant has for investing.
“They are also investing in our competitors.”