Travis Kalanick’s resignation as CEO of ride-sharing firm Uber Technologies Inc. may alleviate the company’s short-term leadership and cultural issues.
However, in the long run, the company will have to deal with a different type of challenge: maintaining its mission-driven vision and culture so it can continue to innovate to stay relevant.
That’s because once a founder leaves the company they started, it’s not uncommon for the passion, mission and vision that they brought to work everyday walks out the door with them. Whoever takes the helm as chief executive at Uber likely won’t have a prior connection to the firm in the same way Kalanick did.
To the new CEO, taking over Uber will be more of a challenge in their executive turnaround ability than in having a core belief in Uber’s mission. Sure, the new CEO will want the company to succeed, but their motivation for seeing success through is likely to be different than what motivated Kalanick.
This is why so many of the most innovative companies still have at least one of their founders in the top job. Because when a founder exits a company, innovation stalls in favor of maintaining the status quo. Companies grow bureaucratic; managers’ motivations shifts away from growth and innovation to climbing the corporate ladder.
Apple, for instance, rose to become arguably the most successful technology firm in the world thanks to former CEO Steve Jobs, the company’s co-founder who was central in the creation of Apple’s most innovative and successful product, the iPhone. Apple’s current success still stems in large part from the iPhone. No Apple product since has matched it.
You can say the same thing about Microsoft Corp. Once Bill Gates departed as CEO, Microsoft, too, lost its innovative touch. The company grew to become one of the largest public companies in the world — but it also became complacent, ultimately falling behind in the mobile category as other founder-led firms like Apple and Google gobbled market share for mobile devices and their respective operating systems.
Think of the world’s most innovative companies. What do they all have in common? Their founders are still either leading the company directly as CEO, have retained a presence as a board member or are still involved as its largest controlling shareholder. Facebook, Tesla, SpaceX, Alphabet, Snap, Airbnb, Lyft, Amazon, Salesforce, to name a few. All are leaders in innovation, and all are still led by at least one of their founders.
Kalanick, to be sure, isn’t leaving Uber entirely. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kalanick will keep his seat on the company’s board of directors. He will also hold a majority of Uber’s voting rights, along with co-founder Garrett Camp and early employee Ryan Graves. How this will influence the company’s direction moving forward remains to be seen.
The next Uber CEO will face a bevy of challenges, many of which are a direct result of the toxic company culture that spawned thanks to Kalanick’s rough-and-tumble leadership style. Replacing Kalanick is the right move.
Time will tell, however, if the company is able to replace Kalanick with a leader that is equally as invested in the kind of passion and vision that propels a company to continue maintain its ability to innovate.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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