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Image: Dan Patterson/TechRepublic

Among many scandals that Uber has faced recently, the ride-sharing giant has a new one to add to the list: The departure of its president, Jeff Jones, after only six months at the company.

The news follows on the heels of several major controversies that have plagued the ride-sharing giant over the last several months. To name just a few: In February, former Uber employee Susan Fowler Rigetti reported a culture of sexism and harassment at the company, sparking an investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder. A Twitter campaign to “#DeleteUber” was launched after news that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick would take a seat on President Trump’s economic advisory council, prompting Kalanick to back down from the position. And just weeks ago, a story in The New York Times outed Uber for its “Greyball” program—a practice of deceiving authorities in areas where the company has been restricted.

On Sunday, Jones linked his departure to the toxic company culture at Uber.

“It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he told Recode.

While Uber is currently the world’s leading ride-sharing service, a number of competitors have recently sprung up, aiming to attract customers who may be tired of the company and looking for socially-conscious alternatives.

But while Uber has made a name for itself as a tech and ride-share company, it has made several other big investments recently. In August 2016, the company introducing self-driving fleets to the public in Pittsburgh—the first of its kind in the US. That month, the company also purchased Otto, a self-driving trucking company. It later unveiled similar fleets in San Francisco—prompting state authorities to call the move illegal, and force them to move to Arizona. Uber has also made a big investment in AI, launching Uber AI Labs in December 2016. And in February, it even hired a NASA veteran to help the company develop flying autonomous cars.

Jones is, by no means, the first tech executive to leave a company quickly. Amit Singhal was also asked to leave Google this month, after failing to reveal a previous sexual harassment claim from his previous job at the company. And others from Uber’s staff have recently stepped down, including vice president of product and growth Ed Baker and security researcher Charlie Miller.

SEE: Our autonomous future: How driverless cars will be the first robots we learn to trust (TechRepublic)

Still, earning a reputation for bad company culture could spell trouble for Uber in attracting top talent as it positions itself as a top player in the driverless vehicle race.

“This news certainly contributes to a narrative about Uber that will make hiring top engineering talent more difficult,” said Bryant Walker Smith, professor at the University of South Carolina and one of the leading experts on the legal aspects of self-driving vehicles.

Jeffrey Miller, IEEE member and associate professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, agreed. “Uber is having trouble rebranding itself after so many problems,” he said. “This doesn’t change what the company has done or is doing, but it does change the face of the company. Uber has been at the forefront of controversy from its inception, competing with the taxi industry and having to operate within or help modify the laws in different cities.

“I don’t see this as a devastating hit to the company,” said Miller, “but the next president and COO should be thought about strategically.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Uber’s president, Jeff Jones, just left the company after a six-month stint, citing problems with the company’s culture.
  2. The announcement comes on the heels of several major controversies the ride-sharing giant is facing, and continues the narrative of the company’s toxic work environment.
  3. As Uber continues to invest in AI and driverless research, the news could potentially pose problems for the company in attracting and retaining top engineering talent.

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