Uber Hires Harvard Professor to Help Clean up Culture

Uber Hires Harvard Professor to Help Clean up Culture

In the midst of several overlapping scandals earlier this year, including allegations of sexual harassment and rampant sexism, Uber has undertaken to overhaul its internal culture, which some employees, shareholders, and news reports have characterized as fundamentally toxic. Its latest move in that direction, CNN reports, is the hiring of Frances Frei, a professor and administrator at Harvard Business School who is joined Uber last week as senior vice president of leadership and strategy, reporting directly to CEO Travis Kalanick:

Frei is taking a leave of absence from Harvard to take on the role, an Uber spokeswoman said. … Frei will serve, in part, as a partner to HR chief Liane Hornsey in acting on the investigation’s findings. She will also work with Uber’s executive leadership team on strategy and management training. …

The bestselling author of “Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” Frei is considered to be a thought leader on organizational change.

Frei brings some much-needed credibility to Uber’s change initiative. Most people, especially students, at HBS over the past six or seven years know her best as the leader of its gender equity initiative, which the New York Times profiled at length back in 2013. In addition to her research on strategy and organizational change generally, one of her most tangible wins across the last few years was the changes that came to HBS as a result of her leadership on this project, despite the controversy she kicked up with her hands-on approach.

I also wonder if she will be seen as “the grown-up in the room,” much like Sheryl Sandberg’s initial role at Facebook. In any case, she seems like a good fit for what’s ailing Uber.

Part of Frei’s purview, CNN adds, will be working in partnership with the company’s head of HR Liane Hornsby to act on the findings of an internal investigation Uber hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct in February. A subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors received the report last Wednesday, but the company has postponed discussing the findings with its employees, Axios reports, possibly due to the tragic death of Kalanick’s mother in a boating accident late last month.

Frei’s addition to Uber’s leadership team comes after several executives departed the company in the wake of the recent controversies. The company made another high-profile executive hire this week, however: Bozoma Saint John, formerly head of Global Consumer Marketing for Apple Music, is joining Uber in an as-yet undisclosed role, TechCrunch reports. Whatever that role turns out to be, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lundgren characterizes the hiring of Saint John, a woman of color who made a big splash at Apple’s developer conference last year, as “part of Uber’s efforts to reposition itself as a different kind of company than it has been in the past.”