Where is Travis Kalanick? Uber used attack on its drivers to pressure pols to favor riding app

Leaked files revealed that in one instance, former CEO Travis Kalanick allegedly told other leaders, 'Violence guarantee(s) success'


                            Where is Travis Kalanick? Uber used attack on its drivers to pressure pols to favor riding app
Travis Kalanick left Uber in 2017 (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for IAVA and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Leaked files have revealed that Uber used attacks on its staff by taxi drivers scared of losing their jobs to put pressure on politicians to alter the rules in their favor. The documents revealed that bosses managed the chaos that arose from protests over their growth in European nations to get public support. They also tried to get politicians like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and France's Emmanuel Macron to lobby in favor of the company. 

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As many as 1,24,000 explosive files that have been leaked to several media outlets have brought these claims to the fore. In one instance, former CEO Travis Kalanick allegedly told other leaders, "Violence guarantee(s) success." He possibly referred to counter protests against taxi drivers who were enraged at the app being launched in Paris in 2016. Kalanick had to resign from Uber in 2017 after being accused of brutal management practices and various instances of sexual and psychological harassment at the firm.

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The files have raised several questions, including whether the company used illegal tactics to dodge restrictions in several countries, as well as gain political support. The documents were initially obtained by the Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Text and email exchanges between executives have also  come to light. 

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The Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the probe, reported that Uber rapidly expanded after leaning on subsidized drivers and discounted fares that undercut the taxi industry. It did so "often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service." Taxi drivers reportedly felt that their livelihoods were threatened. Drivers across Europe allegedly faced violent retaliation. In fact, the investigation found that "in some instances, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives pivoted quickly to capitalize" in order to seek public and regulatory support, the Washington Post said. 

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Entrepreneur Travis Kalanick attends the 2016 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony on November 8, 2015 in Mountain View, California.
Travis Kalanick attends the 2016 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony on November 8, 2015 in Mountain View, California (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize)

Similar tactics were reportedly adopted in European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. On multiple occasions, drivers were mobilized and encouraged to complain to the police when they were victims of violence. This benefitted the company which then used media coverage to obtain concessions from the authorities.

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A spokesperson of Kalanic has now issued a statement regarding the leaked files. "Travis Kalanick never authorised any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country. Mr Kalanick never authorised or directed any illegal conduct in Uber’s expansion efforts in Russia, and in fact had very limited involvement in those expansion plans. And Mr Kalanick never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety. Any accusation that Mr Kalanick directed, engaged in, or was involved in any of these activities is completely false," the spokesperson said.

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"The reality was that Uber’s expansion initiatives were led by over a hundred leaders in dozens of countries around the world and at all times under the direct oversight and with the full approval of Uber’s robust legal, policy, and compliance groups," they added. 

Who is Travis Kalanick?

Travis Cordell Kalanick, the co-founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) of Uber, previously worked for Scour, a peer-to-peer file sharing application company. He was also the co-founder of Red Swoosh.

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks at the Generation Now Inaugural Youth Ball hosted by OurTime.org on January 19, 2013 in Washington, United States.
Travis Kalanick speaks at the Generation Now Inaugural Youth Ball hosted by OurTime.org on January 19, 2013 in Washington, United States (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for OurTime.org)

Born on August 6, 1976, Kalanick grew up in Northridge, California. He was born to Bonnie Renée Horowitz Kalanick (née Bloom) and Donald Edward Kalanick. Kalanick has two half-sisters and one of them is the mother of actress Allisyn Ashley Arm. He also has a brother, who is a firefighter. 

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Kalanick graduated from Granada Hills Charter High School and then studied computer engineering and business economics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was a member of Theta Xi fraternity while  studying at UCLA. He dropped out to work at the start-up Scour full-time in 1998.

Kalanick's parents were involved in a boating accident in May 2017. While the tragedy seriously injured his father, his mother died.

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Resignation from Uber

In June 2017, Kalanick resigned from his position as Uber CEO after what the New York Times called a “shareholder revolt". In the months that led up to him quitting the company, there were reports of an aggressive company culture rife with sexual harrassment. There were also reports of verbal abuse and discrimination that the management allegedly encouraged. In one instance, Kalanick referred to Uber as “Boob-er” in a 2014 GQ article, because of how the firm brought him “women on demand”. 

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Travis Kalanick attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.
Travis Kalanick attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Five of Uber’s major investors, including Bill Gurley, demanded that Kalanic resign. He eventually complied but retained his board seat nonetheless. He sold off the last of his shares and left the company’s board in 2019. Kalanick made more than $2.5 billion from his Uber shares alone. 

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Post-Uber ventures

In 2018, Kalanick announced he was start a venture fund 10100, focused on job growth in emerging markets like China and India. The name of the venture was likely named after the address of his childhood home, according to CNBC.

Kalanick also announced that 10100 had invested $150 million in City Storage Systems (CSS). According to Vox, CSS focuses on repurposing distressed real estate assets and turning them into spaces for new industries. Kalanick also announced that he would become CEO of CSS. A subsidiary of CSS, CloudKitchens took a controlling interest in FoodStars in June of 2018.

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Kalanick invested $300 million in the startup, and 18 months later Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund completed invested $400 million. In 2022 Business Insider reported that the company had raised new funding valued at $15 billion. Kalanick has also served on an advisory board for Neom, Saudi Arabia’s plan to build a futuristic "mega city" in the desert.

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