Uber PR Image Saver Professor Frances Frei leaves Uber

(Bick Bhangoo) #1

Frei, a Harvard professor, was Uber's secret weapon in changing the corporate culture and making all the employees think in terms of customers and driver's appreciation. Frei was bright into Uber after Travis Kalanick managed to cause more internal damage than external success. Frei is going back to the Harvard Business School and will remain a freelance advisor to Uber's board.

Frei told reporters that "When I got here, my goal was to train and teach executives how to manage better, but it became super apparent that the training needed to go way beyond that. As soon as the executive team was calmer, I turned my attention to 3,000 managers whose jobs grew well beyond their skills, which I think was the real work."

Frei has worked with over 6,000 employees during her time in Uber. She used her Harvard executive education program as the base of her teaching efforts. With the transfer of power from Kalanick to Khosrowshahi, Frei's tenure became less urgent. Rather than retain her services full time, she will continue to provide the same education as an adviser.

Frei started in June 2017, and her official title was SVP of leadership and strategy, which means that she had to teach everyone leadership qualities as well as how to use strategy to succeed. Frei would travel all the way from Cambridge, Mass., to Uber's HQ in San Francisco. This is no mean feat for anyone, especially for a married partner with kids. She would leave her wife at home for work on the west coast.

Among the many success that Frei has had during her career, one of them was authoring the book "Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business" and that was one of the reasons why Uber hired her. From the moment she came on board, Frei was active in helping HR in recruiting as well as introducing a zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Most of Frei's challenge was how to undo the damage that Kalanick had integrated into the corporate culture. Kalanick embraced a pirate style image, where bad morals, bad ethics, sexual harassment and disregard of the law were predominant in all of his activities. While that might have been Kalanick's style, it should not have become the corporate style. Once Khosrowshahi entered the scene, the bad taste and bad culture became a thing of the past. The new challenges facing Uber are how to mitigate all the past actions and reduce the damage and costs to a minimum.

As Frei stated to the press My goal is to make this a world-class company that can be proud of itself in the end, rather than embarrassed." After Khosrowshahi came on board, Frei's approach changed, and she told the media that "I think with Dara leading, a lot of our biggest challenges are in the rearview mirror,"

Maybe Uber has succeeded in defeating the bad culture ghost that troubled it. Only time will tell, in the meantime, I present the two internal messages that were set from Dara Khosrowshahi and Frances Frei to all of the Uber employees.

Team Uber,

After nearly a year of leadership coaching and building a first-of-its-kind executive education program at Uber, Frances is leaving to develop … you guessed it … another first-of-its-kind executive education program before returning to teach full-time at Harvard. She'll provide more detail in due time, but the idea is to marry her lifetime of experience coaching companies with some of what she learned on the front lines at Uber, with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities. Luckily for us, it won't feel like she's gone too far since she has agreed to stay on as an advisor and will continue to teach the Harvard Executive Education program she designed. Since day one, Frances has been a breath of fresh air — an academic among techies, a coach for leaders, an enthusiastic instructor, and a patient listener. Because of her, Uber now has a world-class corporate education program that thousands of you have attended, and an enthusiastic partnership with one of the best universities in the world. I'm personally grateful for all of her hard work, and I look forward to our continued partnership.

Thank you, Frances!


Thank you, Dara, for the kind words. And to all my friends here at Uber — thank YOU for such a terrific experience and for being my teachers throughout the last nine months. If I look back on why I joined and when it would have been impossible to imagine that we'd be where we are today. And it's exciting to think where you'll be nine months from now … the sky's the limit! As I prepare to head back to live full-time on the East Coast, my heart is full. I've been inspired to see the Executive Education program (which happens to be the Harvard Business School "case method" approach) ripple through an organization at an unprecedented pace, scale, and absorption. I'll miss everyone here, but I also can't wait to apply everything I learned to my next project — while wearing an Uber t-shirt, of course.

As Dara said, I'll still be around, and you'll hear more from me on next steps as we grow Uber's Executive Education program even further. I look forward seeing you "on the wall."

With deep respect,


(Andrew Martin) #2

I am sure she did a great job, I think that Uber was correct in cancelling her contract, or not renewing it. Some companies, while they might have loads of cash lying around, should still manage their systems as if they were on a shoestring budget. This is even more true for companies that are losing money. My biggest concern with all start-ups was the amount of cash being wasted on “beautiful” offices and large “signposts”. Start-ups live off borrowed money, their budgets should be heavily audited and wages should be paid in accordance to minimum acceptable norms until the company breaks even. Once a start up makes profits then large wages, big bonuses and extravagant buildings can be showered upon the employees. I am sure that over $1 billion was wasted on extravagance.

(Steve Mann) #3

Frei was a good investment for Uber, I am sure she did make a change. I also think that there was one big mistake that has still not been fully dealt with. Drivers, while being independent contractors are the reason why Uber is successful. The app is just a bit of code, nothing special. The business model is also nothing special, what is special are the willingness of drivers to work for Uber. Since most Uber drivers need the income, they will moan while they work. The fact that Uber took advantage of this weakness, and he fact that drivers tend to be more individualistic, which is something that Uber promoted, only helped alienate drivers from Uber. Now Uber should do more do involve the drivers in their operations, since the only real challenge to Uber is another Uber, such as Lyft. Drivers will migrate to a better paying job, if it is identical to Uber. The only reason why a driver might stay in Uber even if another company pays better (but to by much more) is if Uber instigate and integrates a driver education program that helps them help Uber as well as provides the driver with more knowledge and understanding. Investing in the drivers is like investing in the employees and will eventually pay off big time.

(Anderson Lee) #4

Good luck, Frances. Former President Jeff Jones was tasked with turning around the corporate culture and quit within six months because the task was monumental. I don’t see how she can “hold executives accountable” if she reports directly to Travis. The company needs an independent auditor to come in with the power to fire executives. That’s the only way to get real accountability.