Why Did Uber CEO Kalanick Leave President Trump’s Advisory Panel?

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from President Trump’s advisory board, made up of the leaders of numerous top American brands. He was the first of those leaders to step down, pressured by a social media storm #deleteUber that arose after he was seen to support Trump.

Joining Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum drew more attention for Kalanick than for any of the other corporate leaders. And Travis didn’t even attend one meeting. He resigned before the February 3 meeting, after missing the first meeting because he was in India.

Why was Kalanick the first to step down? Lack of trust.

A brief, but beautiful, post by French journalist Isabelle Musnik helped me understand this. “Tu (ne) brûleras (pas) ce que tu as adoré….” appears on influencia.net.

I translate the title, “You don’t burn what you love.” It’s a play on a darkly cynical French saying, “Tu brûleras ce que tu as adoré” (You burn the ones you love). For the business audience she turns it on its head, changing it to mean, “You don’t hurt the ones you love.” Or, in the case of #deleteUber, you don’t delete what you love.

With the worldwide proliferation of #deleteUber and #boycottUber, a surprisingly high number of Uber’s customers have shown a willingness to ‘burn’ their accounts. The New York Times puts the number of cancelled accounts at 200,000 in less than a week.

The difference between Uber’s and Lyft’s gifts

Musnik gives an adequate summary of the events surrounding the JFK airport controversy, but makes one small mistake.

After noting Lyft’s donation to the ACLU, she says that Uber set up a $3 million gift to the ACLU. Wrong. They set up a $3 million fund to support drivers who are out of the country and are affected by the Muslim travel ban. Big difference. (Note: this conflation is exactly what Uber was aiming with the fund, poaching credit from ACLU supporters.)

Lyft’s donation has an outside party involved, the ACLU. They’ll be held accountable for the disbursement of the money (over four years). Uber has simply set up an internal fund. They’re not a public company, so there will be no external party tracking this money. I would be surprised if a fraction of it is given to drivers. Typical of Uber bluster, they set up the internal, private fund at three times the size Lyft’s external, public pledge. (Begin Trump impersonation: We’ve really got the best fund. A great fund. It’s… huuuge. Lyft’s donation is really quite small. Sad.) Why is the Uber fund that large, they haven’t even announced how many of its drivers have been affected? How could they have chosen a number except by making it larger than Lyft’s.

Where’s the trust? That’s their problem.

Turn your tongue in your mouth seven times

Throughout the post, Isabelle Musnik uses French sayings to illustrate Uber’s problem. “The moral of this story:” she writes, “If you are communicating during a sensitive event, turn your tongue in your mouth seven times.” (“La morale de cette histoire : si tu essaies de communiquer lors d’un évènement sensible, tourne ta langue 7 fois dans ta bouche.”) Think about it. Test it out.

Kalanick and Uber have not done this, as I wrote in my post “#BoycottUber: How one Tweet from Uber fueled a movement.” Kalanick posted to Facebook an explanation of his seat on the forum. The post went public just before the JFK Tweet that helped start #deleteUber. In the missive, Kalanick includes a section naming other corporate leaders on the board, as if to spread the blame. This makes him look petty.

This section of the post also drew the attention of many satirists. Comedian Dedus Nice called Kalanick Snitch McGee. A Tweet by @Acquired_Taste mocking the Uber CEO went viral.

Why has Kalanick been called out for his participation with Trump when peers like Elon Musk have received much less heat for it? Again the parables in Musnik’s post prove illuminating.

The clincher: Deception kills love

She finishes her post: If you don’t create and earn a real, sustainable loyalty with your consumer, then you won’t be able to resist bad buzz. Deception kills love…. (“Si tu ne crées pas une vraie loyauté durable et méritée avec tes consommateurs, tu ne résisteras pas au bad buzz. La déception tue l’amour…”)

Kalanick has run Uber in a style that is reminiscent of Trump. They’re brash and bold. Neither shows a willingness to accommodate to custom. They’re impatient with those who hold different points of view.

While people love a cheap and convenient ride, Uber may not have earned the sustainable loyalty to overcome #deleteuber in the short term. Let’s see how it plays out over the long haul. After all, Trump somehow won an election.

I’ll let Musnik have the last word. It sounds so much better in French:

La déception tue l’amour…


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