SoftBank Ex-President Says Uber's Incoming CEO Must Fix Culture

  • Travis Kalanick leaving Uber was the right call: Nikesh Arora
  • Arora speaks in an interview on Bloomberg Television

Former SoftBank President Nikesh Arora discusses Travis Kalanick stepping down as Uber's CEO with Emily Chang on Bloomberg's Studio 1.0. (Source: Bloomberg)

Uber Technologies Inc.’s next chief executive officer will first need to tackle the ride-hailing giant’s chaotic corporate culture, according to Nikesh Arora, former president of SoftBank Group Corp. 

The ride-hailing company, which came under fire for a culture that some say failed to punish discrimination and harassment, is currently searching for a new leader after its board ousted co-founder Travis Kalanick in June. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, who has backed Uber’s rivals in India, Southeast Asia and China, has signaled that he’s interested in making an investment in Uber.

Arora, who was at Softbank until recently, was Son’s right-hand in making deals, helping to make the company the primary financier behind an anti-Uber alliance. Arora left SoftBank after Son, who had called him a likely successor, decided to remain at the helm of the company he founded. Now, with Uber struggling to find a new chief and dealing with a lawsuit with Alphabet Inc. and a probe by the U.S. Justice Department, SoftBank may become a key stakeholder with a say in the CEO selection process.

“Somebody needed to take responsibility for all the things we read about in the past year,” Arora said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang. “Whoever ends up in that role, has both a cultural set of issues to fix and also has a whole series of operational things to do.”

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., former Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer and CVS Pharmacy Inc. President Helena Foulkes have been mentioned as leading candidates for the top job at Uber. Arora, who has served as chief business officer at Google before Son personally recruited him in 2014, said he hasn’t been approached for the position.

Uber’s management shake-up comes at a time when the world’s most valuable startup is reeling from setbacks abroad while facing increasing competition in the U.S. from its hometown rival Lyft Inc. Uber sold its business in China to Didi Chuxing, after a fierce battle that saw each company burning through more than a billion dollars a year at one point, and negotiated a similar move in Russia to narrow losses.

SoftBank last this month invested $2 billion into Grab, Uber’s rival in Southeast Asia. In April, it led a $5.5 billion investment in Didi and also sprinkled money into Brazil’s largest ride-sharing startup 99 and India’s Ola. Earlier this month, Son said he’s considering an investment in Uber or Lyft.

The ride-hailing business doesn’t have to be winner-take-all and two companies like Uber and Lyft can co-exist in the same market after it stabilizes, Arora said. The race to self-driving cars may be premature and best left to automakers, he added. Overall, the ride-hailing industry has passed a threshold and there is no doubt the services are here to stay, he said.

“When things go from a nice-to-have to a must-have in your life, you realize this is a winning scenario,” Arora said. “We’ve established a need for this product or service and there are many players around the world who are trying to perfect the model.”

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