Uber: The One Company Immune to Crisis?

By Gene Grabowski

UPDATE: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has temporarily stepped down from the company.

I shouldn’t be writing this. After all, I make a living in public relations. But here goes: It seems like no matter what Uber does or how much bad publicity the ride-hailing company generates for itself, its success may be inevitable.

That’s right, we may have found the one company that is immune to crisis.

I’ve managed crisis communications for dozens of companies that have crashed and burned after transgressions and challenges that don’t equal even half of the damage Uber has suffered so far. Since Uber’s launch in 2009, it has been sued by governments, drivers, passengers and competitors for everything from intellectual property theft, driver exploitation, driver misbehavior, price fixing, sexual harassment and safety violations.

On top of all that, consider that Uber is reported to have lost about $4 billion since it was founded. The privately held company has yet to make a profit, yet it is valued at nearly $70 billion. Uber’s revenue continues to grow each quarter even as states, local municipalities, labor unions and cab companies oppose its intrusion into their markets.

And as Uber has faced a loud and steady drumbeat of crises, it’s top talent has been jumping from the company like it's the Titanic.

Since February, the ride-hailing company has lost 12 of its top people. Departures have included its president and its heads of communications, finance, product, and its self-driving car division. Most recently, Chief Business Officer Emil Michaels announced his resignation and CEO Travis Kalanick has taken a leave of absence.

Only Donald Trump is having a worse year than Uber. Still, the company thrives. Why? Just ask a Millennial. She’ll tell you.

From her perspective, Uber is easy; there is no credit card or cash transactions to worry about. Uber is convenient; a car comes swiftly to your apartment or friend’s house no matter where you live. Uber is affordable; the cost of a ride typically is lower than regular cab fare. And above all, Uber is cool; just tap an app on your smart phone and watch the cars circling your neighborhood, videogame style.

Aging Baby Boomers like Uber too. So many of them drive for the company part-time for extra cash or as way to earn money in retirement.

A colleague visiting Washington on business recently had to get from downtown to Capitol Hill after lunch. As six or seven empty cabs went by us, he chose to punch up an Uber on his smart phone and wait a few minutes for the car to arrive rather than immediately get into a convenient cab for the three-mile ride. Keep in mind, this is a guy who is boycotting Kellogg’s products because the Battle Creek company uses genetically modified sugar beets to sweeten some of its cereals.

“Cabs are almost always dirty,” he said, dismissing my litany of Uber’s well-publicized sins. “And besides, no matter what, Uber is the future.”

And there you have it. Proof positive that if you have a product or service that enough people feel they’ve just got to have, even crisis can’t stop it.

From a purely selfish perspective, I’m glad that companies like Uber are rare.

If you’re looking for someone with over 25 years of crisis communications + issues management experience who can help you build and protect your reputation, contact Gene directly.


Gene is a Partner at kglobal. He is focused on creating and managing successful campaigns for corporations, trade associations, non-profits and universities. Gene was named Crisis Manager of the Year for his effective work on numerous high-stakes issues and speaks frequently on strategic crisis management. He writes about trends in issues management and public relations. You can follow him on Twitter @crisisguru, read his tips on the kglobal blog or e-mail him.