Is Uber Pulling Its “Reputational Fat” Out of the Fire?

With all the negative Uber news taking place all over the world for the past few months – some of it quite serious and potentially materially damaging to the company — the following question bears asking: have they begun to turn the corner, starting to manage their reputation risk and associated underlying risks better, or are they simply scrambling to undo the damage that has already been done in a more superficial, less sustainable way?

If the former, it may be possible to posit that they are learning lessons that will help them convert their reputational risk into longer term value. If not, they may continue to suffer reputational risk downside.

Let’s take a look at some of the details. Back in the fall of 2014, they certainly seemed underprepared or completely unprepared to deal with the fall-out of headlines like these:

  • “Uber Executive Proposes Smearing Female Reporters who Criticized Apps” (Gawker, November 17, 2014).
  • “Uber Banned in Delhi After Rape Allegation” (WSJ December 8, 2014).
  • “Sexist French Uber Promotion Pairs Riders With “Hot Chick” Drivers” (Buzzfeed November 25, 2014).
  • “France Says It Will Ban Uber’s Low-Cost Service in New Year” (NYTimes.com December 20, 2014).
  • “Alleged Uber Rape Victim Looks to Sue Uber in the US” (WSJ January 16, 2015)

More recently, however, we have seen somewhat less jarring and even positive headlines:

  • “Uber Mulls Possible Changes to Business Model in India” (WSJ January 15, 2015)
  • “Uber Offers Trip Data to Cities, Starting with Boston” (WSJ January 13, 2015)
  • “Uber CEO Strikes Conciliatory Tone in Europe” (WSJ January 18, 2015)
  • “Uber Touts Employment Opportunities” (WSJ January 25, 2015)
  • “Hard Driving Uber Tries Olive Branch” (NYT February 1, 2015)

Especially in the last couple of stories, Uber’s CEO seems to be making a more positive case for his business claiming that there are beneficial consequences of the company’s business model on local economies including the creation, potentially, of 50,000 new jobs in the EU. He seems to be pulling a move out of the reputation risk playbook: finding ways to convert both the underlying risk (health, safety, data privacy, misrepresentation) and the associated reputation risk that hit them when he suggests that Uber can create 50,000 new jobs across Europe.

What is happening here? Is the company grasping at straws, haphazardly managing its crisis and reputation risk or are they learning from their mistakes and recognizing that their underlying cyber, privacy, health, safety, and regulatory risks can snowball into even larger and more contagious reputation risk?

Time will tell but for me the bottom line is this: Will Uber take the lessons learned from these difficult moments and build internal resilience and the necessary programs to build long-term sustainable integrity and profitability or are they simply playing this situation in a superficial, PR driven way.

For more on this and related risk, reputation, strategy and crisis topics, please see the following resources:

  • The Reputation Risk Handbook: Surviving and Thriving in the Age of Hyper-Transparency (DO Sustainability 2014): http://bit.ly/1mIWCrN
  • “Corruption, Risk and Reputation: An Interview with Andrea Bonime-Blanc”. Richard Bistrong interviews Andrea Bonime-Blanc in JD Supra Blog To access [Read Here] or to download the pdf click here.
  • “Key Takeaways of Corporate Reputation Risk in 2014”, Wall Street Journal Interview with Andrea Bonime-Blanc, December 31, 2014: available here http://on.wsj.com/13JfdLmand here: http://bit.ly/1ctFvSh
  • “Reputation Risk, Crisis and Value Transformation”, NYSE Governance “Inside Compliance” Video Interview with Andrea Bonime-Blanc on the NYSE Trading Floor: http://bit.ly/1thopNJDecember 2014.
  • Andrea Bonime-Blanc, “Risk and Opportunity: The Role of Stakeholder Trust”. Ethical Corporation Magazine: http://bit.ly/1mPtXN7May 2014.
  • Andrea Bonime-Blanc, “Turn a Crisis to Your Advantage”. Ethical Corporation Magazinehttp://bit.ly/17aV3I9 April 2013.