Another One Bites the Dust: Uber Board Member Resigns After Making Sexist Comment

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The list of high-profile departures grows at the embattled company. (ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)

The list of high-profile departures at Uber -- both forced and voluntary -- is growing longer.

The latest is David Bonderman, who stepped down from Uber’s board of directors yesterday. Earlier in the day, Bonderman stirred controversy by interrupting fellow board member Arianna Huffington at a meeting to make a comment disparaging women.

Yahoo Finance, which first obtained a recording of the meeting, reports that the comment took place at an all-staff meeting. Huffington was presenting the findings of an investigation conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder into Uber’s workplace culture. The report was triggered by a blog post that alleged rampant, unchecked sexual harassment at Uber. (If you check out the recording, the tape starts at 6:35 minutes.)

While speaking, Huffington pointed out that Uber was adding a woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she said around six minutes into the recording.

“Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” Uber board member David Bonderman said.

“Oh. Come on, David,” Huffington responded.

Never mind that various studies have shown Bonderman to be wrong. His comment also drew the ire of the tech workers Uber needs to appease to win in the war for talent in Silicon Valley. Keenly aware of the optics, Bonderman issued a swift apology and resigned.

The departure came on the same day that CEO Travis Kalanick announced he is taking a leave of absence, to work on his leadership. The move represents a stunning rebuke of the founder/CEO and could have some rethinking one of the central tenets of this tech boom: that great tech companies are led by their founders.

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This thinking is a departure from past practice, said Kirk Hanson, the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

“Silicon Valley has always recognized that founders are not the individuals to grow the firm,” he said.

Founders are visionaries who see a business model nobody else can, said Hanson. But transforming a startup into a multinational corporation takes different skills. In the past, Hanson said a more experienced manager would take the helm as the company grew. Or a seasoned executive would be brought in to work alongside the founder. Think Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg.

There's no doubt that Kalanick fueled growth at Uber. But the report shows that Kalanick failed to put basic systems in place. Complaints of sexual harassment were reportedly ignored, leaving the company open to lawsuits. And Uber is also under federal investigation for allegedly evading regulators. All this could be scaring off the investors and business partners Uber will need if it wants to go public.

“I expect that Uber will be a classic case study in five years, in which we look at how a startup can go wrong if the CEO visionary is not controlled and given adult supervision," said Hanson.

He said he hopes it will also be a case study of how Uber's board recognized the problem and figured out how to turn the ship around.