This is Uber 2.0 – Why trust matters

This is Uber 2.0 – Why trust matters

December 07, 2018


Uber has gone through turbulent times. A string of scandals – from sexism and passenger assault claims to intellectual property theft, multiple lawsuits, battles with regulators and a massive data hack – has rocked the ride-hailing company. In the midst of it all stood its brash co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. His motto was “Always be hustlin’”. But the slew of problems spiraled into a severe trust problem between Uber and its customers. More than 200,000 angry passengers even quit the app altogether in the #DeleteUber movement.

Uber is one of the global unicorns, valued at up to $72 billion, and it has turned the taxi industry upside down with its disruptive business concept. Yet, the Silicon Valley star had a severe image problem. Kalanick’s devil-may-care attitude may have worked in the nineties, but today, a leader’s actions have an impact on the firm’s standing. Take Amazon, Facebook or Apple for example – the face of the CEO becomes the embodiment of the company.

Now, a fresh face is at the helm of Uber. The 49-year-old Iranian-American Dara Khosrowshahi has been tasked with repairing the company’s toxic corporate culture. So he spent much of his first few months mending relations by talking and listening to drivers, staff, and customers to gain back their trust and by meeting politicians and regulators. But he’s also walking the walk: He has beefed up screening requirements and background checks for drivers and took a strong stance against homophobia.

It’s a necessary push not just for Uber, as CEOs overall face a broad lack of trust. More than half of the global population doesn’t trust CEOs, the Edelman Trust Barometer has found. However, 2017 saw CEO credibility rise by seven points to 44%. CEOs now recognize building trust as their number 1 job (69%), surpassing producing high-quality products and services (68%).

CEOs are brands. And if you’re a brand, you have to stay authentic and stick to your message. Shortly after Khosrowshahi was appointed as the new CEO in August 2017 he invited the employees to write Uber’s new cultural norms. By doing so, he made the employees feel like they’re a part of the company’s transformation and that their voices and ideas matter.

Tossing out the old rules, in with the new. “I feel strongly that culture needs to be written from the bottom up,” Khosrowshahi wrote in a LinkedIn-post outlining the company’s eight new cultural norms. “As we move from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth, our culture needs to evolve. We must adapt to become a great company where every person feels respected and challenged.”

Authenticity is key – this is one of the key messages in the media trainings for my clients. Uber’s Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John, who worked for Pepsi, Beats Music and Apple before joining Uber, made it her mantra. She was involved in rehabilitating Uber’s image – the New York Times even ran a profile with the headline “Is This the Woman Who Will Save Uber?“. But in June, Saint John left the company for the entertainment conglomerate Endeavor. Now, her own brand aligns perfectly with the firm’s identity.

It’s undeniable that CEO reputation matters to an organization’s success and is one of its most valuable and competitive assets. The “CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era” outlines that embracing their ‘public personas’ is a must – something I am working on in my positioning.

CEO’s reputation contributes to nearly half of the company’s reputation (45%) and market value (44%).

There are numerous advantages to a strong CEO and CXO reputation, including attracting investors (87%), positive media attention (83%), and crisis protection (83%). Moreover, it helps attract (77%) and retain (70%) employees.

For a company to be highly regarded, its CEO needs to be engaged with its diverse target groups. 81% of the executives expect their CEOs to have a visible public profile for a company to be highly regarded. And this is a clear change. Years ago, CEOs and confused CEO visibility with CEO celebrity.

Today, it’s not about CEO celebrity, but CEO credibility. Today, CEO visibility means having a greater presence, but this time, with greater purpose.

As part of its ambitious rebranding, Uber plans to spend half a billion dollars this year alone on ads aimed at repairing the company’s broken image. In one commercial with the slogan “Moving forward”, the scandal-free Khosrowshahi promises: “One of our core values as a company is to always do the right thing. And if there are times when we fall short, we commit to being open, taking responsibility for the problem, and fixing it. You’ve got my word that we’re charting an even better road for Uber and for those that rely on us every day.” Uber is driving into a future of less hustling, but playing by the rules with integrity.

As Khosrowshahi put it: “We do the right thing. Period.”

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