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.
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,