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  • Writer's pictureJohn Welsh

How a disagreement in an Uber was about more than the fares

Updated: Jan 20, 2018

Following a dispute between the boss of Uber and a driver that was recorded, entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan provided BBC Radio 4 with reasons for the culture of many high profile tech companies and some solutions for their leaders.

Travis Kalanick, the boss of Uber, apologised to his colleagues earlier this week following a heated discussion over falling fares with driver Fawzi Kamel. The conversation was filmed as he sat in the back of one of Uber's high end cars earlier this month, as reported by Bloomberg.

The incident follows a series of stories about high profile technology companies that are in the midst of controversies over workers' rights or sexism, particularly those that have grown rapidly or are former startups.

World at One, BBC Radio 4's lunchtime news programme, invited Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur and author, to give her reason as to why so many high profile technology companies are having problems.

"There's all the difference in the world between having a cool idea for a company and then actually managing that company with dignity and respect when it becomes very very large and employs a very very big dispersed workforce.

She added

"The truth is that a lot of ideas for great companies come from very solitary work or from great insight and none of that will guarantee you have the finesse or subtly or indeed the empathy or the eloquence to run a very big workforce."

She argued.


There's a really interesting phenomenon when you write software you just make stuff happen. It's very transactional. It's very instrumental. It's not about people. It's about zeros and ones."

She continued.


You kind of lose touch with the fact that - for all that there is a lot of cool technology out there - companies are still made of human beings who act like human beings and want to be treated like human beings."

Her solution.

"What we are seeing now both in startups as well as in established companies is CEO's using coaches and mentors in order to make sure that they really do stay in touch with the broad base of their company - not just the top team with whom they spend most of their time."

Heffernan seems to be on to something here as that apology by Kalanick, as reported by TechCrunch, would suggest.

"It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."

Margaret Heffernan's full interview starts at minute:second 37:05, following the discussion between Travis Kalanick and Fawzi Kamel at 35:16, on BBC Radio 4's World at One for the 1st March 2017.

Uber boss Travis Kalanick in a disagreement with Uber driver Fawzi Kamel (still from video hosted by Bloomberg).

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