The Cost of Underestimating Stakeholder Values


The Uber debacle isn’t about surge pricing or continuing to do business at JFK on Saturday during the NYTWA’s (New York Taxi Workers Alliance) one hour strike. It’s about what happens when a corporation doesn’t fully consider, or understand, the core values of key stakeholder groups. To be fair, this challenge isn’t isolated to Uber, but rather, a cautionary tale for many in the corporate sector.

Although it’s difficult to know the extent to which Uber’s business has suffered since Saturday, it’s fair to assume the loss of customers to be significant, with #deleteuber impressions surpassing the 6 million mark on Twitter alone. That’s not taking into consideration the public relations nightmare they now face and the ramifications on future business.

Trouble started brewing for Uber well before Saturday. A series of disputes with city governments, taxi drivers, and its own workers may well have been ground zero for the tipping point currently manifesting through the #deleteuber campaign. 

On January 20th, protesters barricaded the doors of Uber’s San Francisco headquarters in reaction to the company’s perceived ties to the new administration. This was followed by growing tension inside Uber after the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, told employees, "We'll partner with anyone in the world as long they're about making transportation in cities better, creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off the streets." 

Think about that statement for a minute because I believe it’s key to what’s happened since. Amidst growing concerns expressed by external and internal stakeholders, the CEO issued what might easily be perceived as an arrogant and frightening statement to his employees. What does it mean to partner with “anyone” as long as they have similar business goals? Does it not matter what they’re doing outside of that narrow silo?

Given our current political climate, I’ve been wondering how long it would take for a corporation to seriously misjudge the importance of what customers and employees hold dear. The rapidly shifting landscape is extremely difficult to navigate for any organization. However, in Uber’s case, they clearly missed—or chose to ignore—obvious signs. 

For years, data has shown that having a core set of activated institutional values, aligned with a deep understanding of stakeholder convictions, is essential to the overall health of any organization. And although many corporations do have a core set of principles in place, most will need to recalibrate due to issues that have recently emerged as paramount to their key stakeholder groups and the communities in which they operate.   

Andrea Pellegrino