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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick ignored multiple warnings about hiring Anthony Levandowski

Updated Jan 19th, 2018 12:19PM EST
Anthony Levandowski Uber

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As we’ve seen time and time again in Silicon Valley, the same qualities that can propel founders to incredible success can also form the basis for their eventual fall from grace. The most recent example of a tech CEO being done in by his own hubris is Travis Kalanick, the Uber co-founder and former CEO who, engulfed by a seemingly endless stream of scandals, was ultimately forced to resign this past June.

While much has been written about Kalanick’s downfall, which was ironically spearheaded by some of the company’s more prominent and early investors, Bloomberg has a fascinating and in-depth article which takes a closer look at how Kalanick managed to go from one of the more influential figures in all of tech to a man standing on the outside of the company he helped transform into one of the more transformative entities the tech world had seen in recent memory.

The entire piece is well worth checking out in its entirety, but one excerpt involving disgraced ex-Googler Anthony Levandowski is worth highlighting. Levandowski, if you recall, was a star engineer over at Waymo, Google’s self-driving car subsidiary. As the story goes, Levandowski stole gigabytes worth of proprietary technical information about Google’s self-driving car efforts before leaving the company to launch his own self-driving startup dubbed Otto. Before long, Uber expressed interest in the company before opting to purchase it out-right for $680 million in August of 2016.

While the set of facts above are more or less well-established, Bloomberg’s piece notes that Kalanick proceeded to bring Levandowski on board against the strong advice of other Uber insiders. Kalanick, in short, had every reason to believe that Levandowski was tainted but decided to pull the trigger on the Otto acquisition anyhow.

Salle Yoo, Uber’s general counsel and typically not someone inclined to challenge her boss, expressed serious reservations about the deal, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Kalanick’s top deputy, business chief Emil Michael, stayed away from the transaction—he didn’t think it made much financial sense and risked a backlash from Google.

What’s more, private investigators Uber hired to perform due diligence on Otto relayed back that the former Googler had in his possession “five disks of data from Google’s driverless effort and other information that included ‘source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents and software related to Google self-driving cars.'”

Somewhat shockingly, it turns out that Kalanick never even read the report from private investigators. Further, Kalanick promised to shield Levandowski from any impending litigation involving Google.

“Kalanick, the report adds, “was placing an enormous bet on someone who liked to play things fast and loose, even by the standards of Silicon Valley’s eccentric engineers.” And as eventually become abundantly clear, the Otto acquisition was a bad bet from all angles.

The full write-up on Kalanick’s divorce from Uber can be read over here.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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