Over the last couple of years, media reports about Uber exemplified a corporate culture without concern for following the law, acting ethically or just otherwise being a decent corporate citizen. Some examples:

But, this culture seems to be eroding and in its place, a culture of compliant and ethical behavior seems to be emerging.  

Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi regularly speaks about how he is changing the culture and what he is doing to implement that change. He acknowledges he was brought in to remedy the mistakes of the past because as he explained it – Uber’s culture was “completely effed up.”

So, how is he doing it?  

First, based on his own statements and on those who have worked with him, he is an experienced, capable, ethical business leader with an easygoing yet determined nature. These qualities enable a CEO to foster an ethical and compliant culture by modeling ethical decision-making. His nature permits him to stay focused and directed; yet, open, willing to listen, and approachable.  Thus, he seems well suited to make the change.

Second, he took the time to communicate with his employees to learn that his employees were in fact interested in changing.

Third, he implemented changes to help his employees improve the culture.  For example, an updated Uber value and mission statement now includes the directive that: “We Do the Right Thing. Period.”   Khosrowshahi publicly talks about those changes and explains that integrity is crucial to every decision Uber makes.

Fourth, he brought in a strong, courageous, experienced general counsel to provide the legal and compliance guidance the organization needed.  Having experienced and courageous legal, financial, audit, compliance and HR teams is vital to fostering an ethical and compliant culture for they are the ones who will police the organization.  

Finally, he limited the role Uber’s founder and former CEO had in the organization.  And, other executives. who had worked with Uber’s founder and former CEO. have left the organization. This is an important step when an organization has a larger than life leader who cannot seem to get that part of running a business includes following the law and making ethical choices since often the leadership team follows that approach. (See Tim J. Smith, Uber Is Finally Growing Up, Fortune, Aug. 22, 2018)

All difficult things to accomplish but, all are clear, practical examples of how to change a culture.   

There are signs this new approach is paying off. First, around the time Khosrowshahi took over, London had revoked Uber’s license to operate for among other things, failing to report allegations of sexual assault. Several months later, Khosrowshahi apologized for Uber’s behavior and convinced the courts to give Uber a temporary license to operate based on his representations that Uber was changing its ways. (See Julia Kollewe and Gwyn Topham

Uber Apologises After London Ban and Admits ‘We Got Things Wrong’, Guardian, Sept. 25, 2017).

Second, I started using Uber again.

It will be fascinating to watch Uber continue to evolve in 2019.

The intersection of law, business, criminal activity crime and ethics: why do some companies violate the law? what happens when they do? what is ethical? how do we get corporations to follow the law? can lawyers help and, if so, what is the lawyer’s role? Stay tuned, we’re going to address all of these issues and more in When the Writ Hits the Fan.
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