There is a lot of talk around Uber and Travis Kalanick stepping down as CEO. The stories have painted him as having succeeded by breaking all the rules, in much the same way that Hank Rearden did in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Is Travis a hero sticking to his values and the good side of capitalism, leveraging some form of objectivism? Or is he something else?
It’s a good question, one worth looking at and considering especially in light of how many people have pointed out that Ayn Rand has predicted our present economic and political situation in that very book.
So let’s look at Travis Kalanick. Travis has been painted as uncaring, undemocratic, and basically an industrialist jerk. There were allegations of sexual harassment and fleecing of drivers. But what is the truth? We may never know. Over the next several months more and more facts will come to light. But I think the truth of the matter is less important than the lesson to be learned here.
First, in regard to whether Ayn Rand predicted this or not, I think the world is a very different from what she envisioned. Although I often see the wisdom and insight that Ayn Rand saw, she didn’t predict the cluster f*ck that social media and new technologies would create. And like all tools that empower the frothing masses, it is extremely dangerous.
More so, in cases such as this with Uber, when the business fails to take heed and plan for and control their brand. I, personally, think Travis is an idiot and got what he deserved. The beginning of his doom began when they internally rebranded themselves and completely failed to consider their brand strategy to the rest of the world.
Whether it was intentional or out of negligence, moving to a logo that looks like an a**hole, shows that they did not take the process seriously. And more to the point, that either they were so cocky, or lazy, they did not listen to or bring into the picture a competent expert to keep them from such an obviously bad decision. Because of this glaring mistake, I speculate, as I do not know what their internal brand strategy truly is, to only what we have experienced and see from Uber. Clearly, from the PR fiasco that has occurred, there was no clear guide nor plan of attack on how to effectively respond to the negative PR blitz that brought the end to Travis as CEO.
I think there is a lot learn from this, and while I hate it when the masses of social activism achieve such a victory, I have to blame Travis for failing to out maneuver and plan for this. He had the resources, time, and plenty of opportunities to mitigate if not outright prevent this epic failure.
The takeaway is simple:
1) No matter how big or rich you are, if you have a public-facing brand never get so cocky to think you are invulnerable.
2) While thinking outside the box and solving problems can and often is an asset, it can be, and in many cases is an unnecessary liability, one that can and should be mitigated.
3) No matter where you are in the game, if you are dealing with the public you should have in place a clear and effective brand strategy. In addition to the strategy, you should have a PR response plan to such developments so that you can proactively respond and most importantly either own a mistake or turn the issue into showcasing a better side of your brand.