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Uber CEO tells employees that self-driving car unit ‘screwed up’



CEO Dara Khosrowshahi


  • During an all-hands meeting at Uber on
    Tuesday, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and the head of the self-driving
    car unit, Eric Meyhofer, were questioned by employees over the
    culture at the self-driving unit.
  • They asked about allegations of infighting and dysfunction in
    the unit prior to a tragic accident that killed a pedestrian,
    based on
    Business Insider’s newly published investigation
  • What followed was a strange couple of minutes in which the
    executives told odd stories and quoted wrong statistics leading
    up to Khosrowshahi admitting, several times, “we have screwed

On Tuesday, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and the head of its
self-driving car unit Eric Meyhofer stood up at an all-hands
meeting to a smattering of polite applause.

What followed was a strange couple of minutes.

Behind them on a large screen was a list of questions submitted
and voted on by employees, indicating the burning questions
employees wanted their leaders to address.

At the top, with over 130 votes, was a question about
the investigation published by Business Insider last week

into Uber’s self-driving car unit known as the Advanced
Technologies Group (ATG). 

An anonymous employee asked: “Business Insider called ATG’s
culture ‘toxic’ and referred to ‘missed warning signs,’ vast
dysfunction’ and ‘rampant infighting.’ Any truth in this?”

Business Insider had reported on the goings-on inside the unit in
the months before its self-driving car killed Elaine Herzberg, when
engineers deliberately turned off the car’s ability to stop
itself quickly.

Read more:
Uber insiders describe infighting and questionable decisions
before its self-driving car killed a pedestrian

Both Meyhofer and Khosrowshahi spent several minutes addressing
the question. They didn’t punt or evade.

But they did downplay the story, tried to discredit the media,
and implied it wasn’t factual. Meyhofer even indicated the story
was the result of Business Insider contacting former employees
and others who didn’t work at the company looking for
“sensational bits.”

That wasn’t true. Business Insider talked to a half a dozen
people who were all employees of the company on March 18, 2018,
when the incident occurred and did so after several people
reached out to us and asked us to investigate. We corroborated
employee accounts with emails, internal documents, police
reports, and other documents. Business Insider also shared all of
what we learned with the company prior to publication and
included the company’s feedback and statements in the story.

But the weird part happened next.

Meyhofer defended the culture by quoting scores from an internal
employee survey telling everyone that the survey scored “83% for
trust. 83% for teamwork and collaboration.”

It turns out that these stats are not accurate, according to a
source familiar with the matter.

The 83% score is in reference to how employees feel about the
company’s commitment to safety.  The results of the survey
have not been released to employees, but they will also include a
score for “trust and transparency” not “trust and

Meyhofer then launched into a story about his kids. He told
Uber employees that he knew culture was great under his
leadership because his teenage kids wanted to visit the Uber
campus while everyone was away over Thanksgiving break.

They wanted to be here,” he said of his teenagers.
“And I think that speaks really loudly to what we’ve built. They
just wanted to be here.”

After hearing Meyhofer’s defense, a handful of employees
discussed him on the anonymous chat app Blind, a favorite haunt
of frustrated Uber employees.

A Blind post said: “Eric Meyhofer: Based on his response at all
hands on ATG culture, discuss his tenure as Head of ATG!”
Twenty-nine people voted to “replace him” and four voted to “keep
him.”  There are 1,100 employees working for him so of
course, that poll is not statistically significant. But it does
indicate that at least some employee are gossiping about
Meyhofer’s future at Uber.

After the “my kids like it here” story, Khosrowshahi spoke.

Khosrowshahi showed his support of his senior leader by saying
some negative things about Business Insider. And then he said,
“we did screw up” and that “we are radically changing how we
develop, how we test, etcetera. So we’ve gone through changes. We
have screwed up.”

Sources tell Business Insider that Khosrowshahi had not been
paying much attention to the self-driving car unit in his first
year because he was so busy fighting fires with Uber’s main
business, but that this is changing now. 

On Tuesday, Khosrowshahi indicated as much saying, “A year
forward from all the controversy that we saw last year, we are
better, stronger. And I think ATG is going through that same
journey,” he said.

Here’s the full transcript of Meyhofer’s and Khosrowshahi’s
answers to this question from the all-hands meeting.

Dara Khosrowshahi: All right. From anonymous:
“Business Insider called ATG’s culture ‘toxic’ and referred to
‘missed warning signs, vast dysfunction and rampant fighting.’
Any truth to this?”

We will have Eric address the issue first.

Eric Meyhofer: Another anonymous question. I
think it’s pretty important to think about how these articles are
written and a little bit of the history on ATG. So in the past 3
1/2 years we have gone through some pretty sensational stuff here
at ATG. We have seen really challenging acquisitions, big
lawsuits, hyper-growth, significant leadership changes, all kinds
of things that can take people to a very emotional place.

And a lot of folks — there are 1,100 here now — imagine how many
have gone through this journey. A lot of folks who are no longer
with us even that are contacted by these media outlets and
they’re looking for sensational bits. And they’ll ask folks that
don’t work here questions and take them out of context and put
together an article similar to this.

I think what is more indicative of what the culture is like here
is, of course, one, being here and seeing it firsthand.

But if you also look at things like our latest round of NPS
scores [aka scores from the internal “Pulse Survey”], they have
trust here at 83%. 83% for trust. 83% for teamwork and
collaboration  I think those are a lot more indicative of
what is really going on here.

And then I want to kind of take a couple more minutes and share a
personal story that I think says a lot about what it’s like here.
And that is, so this weekend was Thanksgiving weekend and I was
off this weekend, which was quite nice.

And so I’m spending time with my family, specifically with my
children and my son is 14, my daughter is 15. And it’s Sunday.
And I say, hey, you know, it’s the last day of break. What do you
want to do today? And they wanted to come to Uber. They wanted to
come to work.

They wanted to be here. And I think that speaks really loudly to
what we’ve built. They just wanted to be here.

And I don’t know, what we’ve gone through, how we’ve come
together as a team, what we’ve put through on ’18 what our
results are and what we have yet to show on ’18, which I can’t

I’m super proud of what we have done and who we are. And so I
don’t know how to justify what that article says with the truth
and reality. But it’s sensational and it gets people drawn into
their media channel and that’s what they’re going for. But we
need to take these kinds of things with a grain of salt and stay
focused on what the truth really is.

Dara Khosrowshahi:  Thanks, Eric.

Just taking this on from my perspective, first of all, I’d
encourage anyone to, if you scan the “Business Insider”
headlines, it’s a sensational periodical. Not a place you go to
for the facts.

That said, I do think that article does reflect the fact that we
have been through a ton of change at ATG. And any time you go
through a ton of change, right, there’s a leadership change that
Eric talked about. There was a tragic accident that happened this
year. Those changes have resulted and are significantly changing
how we do things and also changing a bunch of folks at the
company as well.

And that is going to result in some folks who do not agree with
the new direction we’ve taken of the company and some folks who
can look back and say, you know what? We screwed up in X, Y and

And by the way, we did screw up in X, Y and Z because we are
radically changing how we develop, how we test, etcetera. So
we’ve gone through changes. We have screwed up. I don’t think
that that article is a true reflection of what has gone on
through ATG. But it does reflect what is true, which is we have
gone through a lot. And I think our test now is: Can the team
come together and build something better? My bet is yes. And we
now have to prove it behind that bet, and I think the ATG team is
going to come out of this better, tighter, stronger.

But what we do have to acknowledge, which is absolutely true, is
it’s been tough.

And our job is to come through this better, stronger as a
company. I think Uber has and will. We are kind of going through
that journey of coming through and I think this, a year forward
from all the controversy that we saw last year, we are better,

And I think ATG is going through that same journey and I think it
will wind up at that same place of “better.”

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