Uber CEO says it ‘sure looked like’ Levandowski took Google’s files

  • TECH
  • Friday, 30 Aug 2019

A file photo of Levandowski at the launch of the pilot model of the Uber self-driving car at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on Sept 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Levandowski was hit with criminal charges on August 27, 2019, alleging he stole trade secrets from the technology giant's self-driving car project and took them to Uber. — AFP

Uber Technologies Inc chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that "it sure looked like" former executive Anthony Levandowski took information on self-driving cars from his former employer, Google.

Prosecutors charged Levandowski this week with 33 counts of stealing trade secrets from Alphabet Inc’s autonomous-vehicle unit Waymo. The charges revive a painful period for Uber when co-founder Travis Kalanick still ran the company. Levandowski was fired by Uber and Kalanick later resigned and was replaced by Khosrowshahi two years ago.

Uber ultimately settled a Waymo trade-secret lawsuit by paying about US$245mil (RM1.03bil) in equity. This year, when the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company filed to go public, Uber disclosed that it may have to pay about US$127mil (RM534.54mil) more to cover Levandowski’s obligations to the Alphabet unit.

"I wasn’t here when we brought Anthony on board but what I do know is that we went to incredible depths to makes sure that any information that Anthony might have acquired from Google – and it sure looked like he did – didn’t make it over to our company," Khosrowshahi said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg TV’s Emily Chang. "That was our responsibility and I think we were incredibly diligent in making sure that we were not guilty of anything that could be nefarious one way or another."

Now the US Attorney’s office is re-opening that saga by bringing charges against Levandowski. Prospectors have said their investigation is ongoing. Levandowski pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said he didn’t steal anything.

Today, Kalanick, who personally recruited Levandowski to Uber, sits on the board.

"He’s on the board for now and he’s going to be on the board tomorrow," Khosrowshahi said. "Ultimately now we’re a public company and the shareholders are going to get to pick their own board and that governance process will take care of itself going forward." Khosrowshahi called Kalanick "bright" and the CEO said he consults with the co-founder from time to time.

Besides responding to past mistakes that continue to dog the company, Khosrowshahi said Uber is still willing to experiment and take risks. He said that he would pull back on business units that don’t carry their weight, while investing in promising areas.

In particular, he said that the company’s delivery efforts would expand beyond food into other areas of local commerce. The company has previously floated grocery delivery efforts.

Khosrowshahi stressed that Uber will be profitable, but said it may take years to reach that goal. The company will keep investing in growth initiatives because getting larger will make it easier to make money, the CEO said.

"Scale. Scale. It’s getting big when you’ve got over a billion rides per quarter and you’ve got trips growing 35% on a year-on-year basis," he added. "We think we can use technology to be more efficient."

Uber shares have slumped 27% since the IPO in May on concern about losses. Earlier this month, the company reported a quarterly net loss of more than US$5bil (RM21.03bil).

"Every great company has to go through tough times – you look at Facebook, you look at Amazon, even five years after their IPO – all of them went through periods where companies are tested," he said. "This is the moment where the mettle of Uber is tested and I’m very confident that we’re going to come out of this stronger than we ever have been before." – Bloomberg

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