Uber Technologies Inc. may end up shooting itself in the foot yet again.
The embattled ride-hailing startup is in the process of selecting its next CEO, with Uber reportedly saying it will nominate former chief executive Travis Kalanick's successor by Labor Day. As onlookers speculate who will take on the job, a short list of potential candidates has materialized. The five-person list is rumored to include outgoing General Electric (GE) - Get Report CEO Jeff Immelt, but no longer Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (HPE) - Get Report CEO Meg Whitman (she put an end that speculation in a tweet last week).
The final list of possible CEOs also doesn't include any women, Recode reports, citing sources close to the situation. According to some experts, that move could prove to be a big mistake.
For the past several months, Uber has been trying to steer itself out of a myriad of controversies, ranging from its shady business tactics, mounting criticism from consumers and, perhaps its biggest issue, allegations of a culture of sexual harassment. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm opened an investigation into Uber after former engineer Susan Fowler penned a blog post detailing how the company was plagued with a sexist and discriminatory corporate culture. The investigation's findings, among other factors, eventually led to Kalanick's resignation last month.
At the same time, Uber faces intense, growing pressure from investors to deliver growth supporting its nearly $70 billion valuation. Uber has raised nearly $12 billion from investors, according to TechCrunch, and was speculated to be close to landing a multi-billion dollar investment from Japan's SoftBank Group (SFTBY) , before those rumors were denied on Monday.
Several experts said that Uber is doing itself a disservice by not having any women among its final CEO candidates. Appointing a woman would send a clear message that Uber's bro culture is no longer an acceptable norm at the company.
"In terms of gender, while the board should pick the best person available, most of Uber's problems are related to its culture and not the business itself," said Bradley Tusk, founder of Tusk Ventures, who was an early adviser to and investor in Uber beginning in 2011. "So a female CEO would certainly send a strong message."
Aside from Whitman, several other women have been pegged as possible candidates for the job. Facebook Inc. (FB) - Get Report COO Sheryl Sandberg was once thought to be a good fit, but she's unlikely to take the job. Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer also surfaced in some speculation, but Mayer said in June that Uber hasn't approached her about the role.
Current Uber board member Arianna Huffington has also been floated as a potential nominee, as well as Bank of America (BAC) - Get Report vice-chairman Anne Finucane. One pie-in-the-sky scenario has Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report YouTube, pegged to be Uber's next CEO, but those rumors have been denied on several occasions.
Uber is expected to appoint women in board member roles or as top executives instead of at the helm of the company, Recode noted. The startup has recently experienced a flood of departures by high-level executives, leaving its COO, CFO, CMO and senior vice president of engineering roles vacant.
"The best thing they could do would be to hire a great woman as CEO," said Vivek Wadhwa, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a director of research at Duke University. "There are many choices. But Uber has never let what is right get in the way of what they do, so they may get this wrong as well."
Wadhwa said he suspects Kalanick is "still pulling some strings" in Uber's CEO search and "wants someone like himself" to run the company. Kalanick still sits on Uber's board of directors and is part of the search committee.
Kalanick has reportedly played a role in making the CEO search more difficult. The ex-CEO has his own preferred candidates for the job that differ with those outlined by many of the company's directors, the New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. He told investors he had hopes of "Steve Jobs-ing" the process -- namely, returning from his ouster to lead the company, as former Apple Inc. (AAPL) - Get Report CEO Steve Jobs once did.