Uber’s messy breakup with Jones complicates COO search

Eric Newcomer
Bloomberg News

During his brief tenure as Uber Technologies Inc.’s president, Jeff Jones toured far-flung offices in India, the Netherlands and other key markets for the global ride-hailing giant. In meetings with local staff, Jones had professed that one of his biggest apprehensions was working with Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, according to a person familiar with the gatherings.

Six months after joining Uber, his misgivings were apparently confirmed. Jones, the most senior member of Kalanick’s executive team, resigned as president of ride sharing on Sunday. Three other senior execs have left in the last month as the company grapples with a succession of scandals. Without naming his boss, Jones chastised management: “The beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber,” he wrote in an email.

The ugly split with Jones further complicates Kalanick’s attempts to navigate Uber’s crises. Along with fulfilling his promise to seek “leadership help” by hiring a chief operating officer, Kalanick must fill new holes in his top ranks and prove that Uber’s culture isn’t beyond repair. “Startups that lose people, that happens,” said Bill Aulet, a senior lecturer on entrepreneurship at MIT. “But startups that lose people in such a bitter way that they don’t believe in the company’s existence? That’s toxic.”

Jones urged major changes favored by Uber drivers, such as adding the ability to tip within the app and a more cautious approach to auto leasing and safety programs, the person said. However, the CEO was resistant to some of the proposals, and Jones’ team of Kalanick loyalists often bristled at taking direction from a new leader, said multiple people, who asked not to be identified.

Kalanick, 40, has acknowledged his weaknesses as a manager. He apologized after Bloomberg published a video of him berating an Uber driver. His plan to hire an operating chief was seen internally as an effective demotion for Jones, insiders said. In an email to employees obtained by Bloomberg, Kalanick wrote: “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber.”

Uber has been rocked by tumult this year. It was the subject of a boycott in January dubbed #DeleteUber for appearing sympathetic to Donald Trump, which led Kalanick to step down from the president’s business advisory council. In February, it faced explosive allegations from a former employee that her boss sexually harassed her and that the human resources department protected him. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo sued Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets. This month, the New York Times reported that Uber used a tool called Greyball to help drivers evade government regulators and enforcement officials.