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Uber employees lose faith and explore exit

Recruiters in the Bay Area and executives at rival companies say they have seen an uptick in job applications from Uber employees, as its workers lose faith in the company’s leadership and start to doubt the value of their stock options.

Uber has gone from crisis to crisis over the past five weeks, prompting increasing numbers of employees to explore the idea of leaving a start-up that was once considered one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious and lucrative workplaces.

“I have seen quite a few people who have been looking to leave Uber,” said one recruiter, who previously worked at the car-hailing company. “One of the main reasons is lack of faith in senior leadership.”

He said the number of unsolicited résumés from Uber employees coming across his desk spiked last week, a time when two former employees published personal accounts alleging harassment and sexism at the company. He received more résumés from Uber in one week than he had the previous month.

For employees at Uber, quitting the company often means walking away from restricted stock units or stock options worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in Silicon Valley’s most highly valued private company. With Uber currently worth around $70bn, a typical middle manager position comes with RSUs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that vest over a four-year period.

“Historically, it has been incredibly difficult to recruit from Uber, which partly has to do with people being unwilling to leave their stock options on the table,” says Guillaume Champagne, president at SCGC Executive Search. “From a purely financial perspective, Uber would need to become an awful place for them to leave.”

Nevertheless, in the past few weeks, Mr Champagne has seen an increase of around 5-10 per cent in the number of people interested in leaving, particularly those who are “a bit less of a culture fit”, he says. “To be fair, people typically know what they are getting into when they join Uber. They know it is a very male-dominated, high-octane, investment banking type of culture,” he adds.

In the past two weeks, a series of public embarrassments, including a video in which chief executive Travis Kalanick berates an Uber driver, have left the company struggling to recover its image. Mr Kalanick issued an unusual apology after the video was published, saying: “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”

Two senior executives quit the company last week, adding to employees’ sense of uncertainty. Ed Baker, who was vice-president of product and oversaw Uber’s rapid expansion over the past three years, resigned on Friday, attributing his departure to an interest in going into public service. Uber did not comment. Amit Singhal, vice-president of engineering, left the company on Monday.

A spokesman for Uber said the company had not seen attrition rates above normal.

Adding to Uber’s woes, the company was sued last week by Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, which alleges that its rival stole trade secrets and infringed on patents relating to autonomous vehicles. Uber called the allegations “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor” and said it would defend itself in court.

However the lawsuit, and the extreme shortage of technical talent in the autonomous vehicle sector, has made the self-driving research unit particularly susceptible to poaching.

“There are definitely more people thinking about leaving,” says Alex Rodrigues, who co-founded Embark, a rival driverless trucking start-up, last year. Several employees in Uber’s advanced technology group, which is based in Pittsburgh, have left to join rivals in the past month.

More than anything, Uber’s recent stumbles have taken the shine off a company that many in Silicon Valley once saw as being invincible, and employees who had planned to stay with Uber through its eventual initial public offering are reconsidering.

While a public offering typically offers an attractive financial prize to employees with equity, Mr Kalanick has said publicly that he wants to delay an IPO as long as possible, meaning that employees’ shares will remain illiquid.

“People were lured in with the promise of equity . . . but now they are realising that they won’t see a return on that for a long time,” says the recruiter who previously worked at Uber. “There is a lot of resistance in upper management to doing an IPO.”

Others say that doubt is starting to sink in. “Previously it was difficult to get them [Uber employees] because of their stock. Now they don’t seem so confident about what that’s worth,” says an executive at one of the largest tech companies in the Valley.

Via FT