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Op-Ed: Why Uber’s top job is the most desirable in tech right now

  • Uber needs a new CEO after its founder CEO, Travis Kalanick, was removed yesterday at the request of 25 percent of Uber's shareholders.
  • They also need 2 new independent directors and a large number of open executive positions filled.
  • The near daily turmoil facing the company has made some ask why anyone would want to take the top job.
Co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick attends an Oscar party on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
Mike Coppola | Getty Images
Co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick attends an Oscar party on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.

Uber needs a new CEO after its founder CEO, Travis Kalanick, was removed yesterday at the request of a number of Uber's shareholders.

They also need two new independent directors and a large number of open executive positions filled.

The near daily turmoil facing the company has made some wonder why anyone would want to take the top job.

However, I'd argue the opposite: Uber's open CEO position is the most attractive CEO job available in tech.

Here's a summary of why critics say you wouldn't want the job:

  • Kalanick and another founder — Garrett Camp — still own control of the company. Yes, Kalanick has willingly agreed to step down from the CEO job now, in service of helping the company reach IPO (and therefore its investors reach liquidity) faster. But what if he later (or sooner) has a change of heart and does a Steve Jobs? The new CEO will look like a John Sculley-style placeholder in the annals of business history.
  • Even if Travis doesn't push the new person out, what if he undermines him or her on the board at every step? What if Travis calls in favors from those still loyal to him working at the company?
  • Massive cultural problems still exist over the nonstop accusations of misogyny and sexism. It will take more than hiring a new head of HR or a rousing all-hands meeting to fix that.
  • Legal overhang. Alphabet's Waymo still has a suit winding its way through federal court accusing Kalanick of knowing about improperly shared Google data.
  • Regulatory questions. It remains to be seen whether Uber, like Zenefits, will face regulatory issues arising from the raft of questions facing Uber over these past few months. Working through those issues took well over a year for Zenefits.
  • Competitive threats. While it's not yet clear, you would have to expect that Lyft will enjoy a large benefit from all these internal distractions in the North American market over the past few months. But Uber was also facing an onslaught of competition overseas before Susan Fowler's blog post exploded this current crisis four months ago. Those threats are all still there.
  • Business issues. Uber lost nearly $3 billion in 2016, according to results it released in April. And that's not including some discontinued operating results. Some think its cash burn is much higher.
  • Longevity of the business model. Although its ride-sharing supremacy seemed once unassailable, this current crisis, its competitive threats and its longer-term ability to compete with the likes of Google, Apple, Tesla and others in the autonomous vehicle space brings into question its long-term viability as a business.
  • Valuation drop. Although Uber last raised money at a $70 billion valuation, there have been numerous reports that private shares in the company have traded hands since then at around the $50 billion level. Can a new CEO turn that around?

So a new CEO must face all these issues head-on. What a headache! Why take the job at all?

Nevertheless, there will be a long line of candidates — men and women — who will be fighting tooth and nail to get the Uber CEO job. If a company were perfect, the CEO job wouldn't be available. I'd say Uber's is the most attractive one open in tech today.

Here's why:

  • There just aren't that many good tech jobs open today. If you're a candidate like Sheryl Sandberg or Adam Bain or Marissa Mayer biding your time waiting for a plum CEO opportunity to open up and make your move, would you rather be the CEO of Uber, Evernote or Jawbone today? Because those are the kinds of CEO jobs which are available (although the latter two are not officially).
  • Uber still has gold-plated investors behind it who will support getting this company from the current valuation to several multiples of that. It's no guarantee, but do you want Benchmark, First Round, and Lowercase rowing with you in the same direction? It sure helps.
  • No other big and successful public tech company top jobs are free. Waiting to take over as CEO of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix or Apple? Keep waiting.
  • None of the other big unicorn (i.e., private) tech companies are looking for a CEO. Palantir? SpaceX? AirBnB? Nope. Maybe some — like Pinterest or Dropbox, for example — might want to add a big name CEO prior to an IPO. I would argue that while the risks are great, the potential upside for an Uber is greater than any smaller unicorn which might want to consider hiring you as CEO.
  • For new outside CEOs: Heads you win, tails you win. Let's face it: Any outsider who takes a top CEO job will have a phalanx of compensation negotiators on his or her side working out a massive comp package that ensures he or she will be paid handsomely whether or not a turnaround sticks, or whether or not Travis returns from the dead at a later date with demands to take back his throne.
  • Most employees, investors, customers, and media will be cheering for this new CEO. After such a run of self-inflicted disasters hitting Uber, the new CEO will get the benefit of the doubt and enjoy a long honeymoon period. And then, whether or not he or she is successful, there will be big-time compensation.

So don't let the negative headlines fool you. Uber is the top open CEO job in tech right now. And there will be a fight among a short list of candidates to get that job.

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