Reputation Damage and Tone at the Top: Uber Scandal Underscores How Corporate Culture can Bring a Company to its Knees

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Uber has had its share of public relations problems lately, and is now known as yet another company having to deal with current business ethics issues. From the taxi-alternative start-up’s drivers claiming they don’t make nearly as much money as they originally promised to none-the-wiser customers getting stuck with hefty price surges at the ends of rides. As if this weren’t enough to land Uber an F rating from the Better Business Bureau (in fact, this and a few other Uber business practices were), Senior Vice President Emil Michael’s comments at a recent dinner have pushed this company into a full-on PR disaster.

For start-ups and some companies in the tech sector, culture-related wrongdoing isn’t new. In fact, it was a journalist's report against Uber for what she believed were unethical business practices that prompted Michael's comments at that dinner. Rather than take steps to investigate or address the bad behavior it was being accused of, Uber resorted to threats against the reporter and other critics of the company. This response underscores how problematic its culture seems to be.

A Broken Corporate Culture Will Come Back to Bite You—and Not Just Through Bad Press

While Uber may think this issue will disappear with time, it won’t. If there is an underlying issue with the company’s culture, or if it is truly one of the many companies with ethical issues, it will rear its head again in the future—it’s only a matter of time.

The same may be true for other companies in the tech space if The Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Mims' concerns play out. In his recent article, "Uber and a Fraught New Era for Tech" he writes, "The emphasis of the tech companies being built now is much more zero-sum. Whom do we need to destroy in an effort to enrich ourselves and our investors, and what is the best vehicle for creating a consumer need that will facilitate that quest?"

Uber is at a critical crossroads and their next steps could ultimately determine their long-term success. If the company doesn’t take the time needed now to establish a strong culture, it runs the risk of losing key partnerships, employees and drivers, and so much more.

If they are nurturing an environment that prohibits or discourages employees or others from speaking up, business risks alone (i.e., safety, etc.) could significantly hamper this thriving, innovative organization.

If that happens, we all lose.


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