Travis Kalanick is one of the most influential and controversial business leaders of the past decade. He is the person most responsible for the phenomenal growth of the ride-sharing company Uber, a firm that has provided over ten billion rides to customers around the world. Uber is also the model for a host of new “on-demand” services, such as grocery delivery, that are changing how we live particularly during a pandemic. Many believe that Uber would not have become Uber without Kalanick’s forceful leadership. A company board member said of him, “There will be many pages in the history books devoted to @travisk—very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.”
A Leadership Legacy Marked by Obsession
Kalanick’s legacy, however, is complicated. Mark Cuban observed that “Travis’s biggest strength is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals. Travis’s biggest weakness is that he will run through a wall to accomplish his goals.” Kalanick, in pursuit of growth, at times violated ethical and potentially legal boundaries. One commentator described him as Silicon Valley’s id – a leader who unabashedly acted on his instinctual drives regardless of the consequences.
Some of his transgressions were of a public relations variety in making disparaging remarks that damaged his relationship with customers, drivers, and regulators. Kalanick, blunt to a fault, called the taxi industry an evil cartel backed by corrupt officials – one that forced him to “sling mud” to be successful. The firm’s marketplace behavior further eroded Kalanick’s credibility as the leader of an increasingly visible firm.