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How Uber Lost Its Way (and its License) in London

Sep 26, 2017
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SMITH BRAIN TRUST – "It was predictable," Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, says of London's decision not to renew Uber's license to operate there. "What is notable," he adds, "is that this probably would not have happened had Uber not had the troubles it had."

Regulators in the U.K.'s largest city announced its decision late last week, saying that Uber was "not fit and proper" to operate in the city, citing the ride-hailing company's failure to report alleged sexual assaults and its lax background checks on its drivers, among other concerns.

Newly minted Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi issued a swift apology for "mistakes we've made," striking a tone that sharply contrasted that of his predecessor, co-founder Travis Kalanick, whose bombastic, in-your-face management style was blamed for the company's toxic work culture, employee retention issues and other widespread management problems.

"Uber's new CEO is trying to change the culture," Goldfarb says, citing his push to adopt a new "do no wrong" ideology. "The problem is that people were hired based on the old ethos, so it might be difficult to implement this with the current workforce." Meanwhile, Goldfarb says, the company's troubles made it "politically feasible" for Transport for London to ban Uber.

Uber's board of directors this summer announced a series of changes it would make to address the company's pernicious work culture, which had been blamed for allowing sexual harassment and other misconduct to go unpunished. The changes were recommended after a monthslong investigation by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and his law firm. Kalanick stepped down as CEO around the same time.

Uber will appeal the British regulator's decision and can continue operating in London while the appeal is pending.

"It is getting more difficult for Uber not to comply with regulations," Goldfarb says. "And they will probably need to comply or exit London. The problem is that compliance is expensive (or perhaps they'll negotiate and partially comply) and they will need to raise their prices. If they do comply, then this will lead to a chain reaction as other cities will try to force Uber's hand as well. Which is not great for the company."

If Uber ends up losing its appeal, that won't mean the end of ride-sharing in the U.K.'s largest city. Londoners can still turn to apps such as Gett or MyTaxi.

If it wins its appeal, Goldfarb says, "then that is an important sign that it is costly to challenge them."

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.