Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick said he appointed two new directors to the board on Friday (29 September) in a surprise power move amid ongoing tension over his influence in the ride-hailing company. In a statement, Kalanick named former Xerox CEO and chairwoman Ursula Burns and John Thain, former CEO of CIT, Merrill Lynch and the New York Stock Exchange to the board of directors.
Uber's board has 11 members in total. As part of a 2016 investment deal, Kalanick was granted control of three spots on the board. After stepping down as CEO in June, he named himself to one of those seats and reserved the right to appoint two others.
Kalanick's move came ahead of a board vote set for next week on a proposal to reduce Kalanick's voting power in the company.
"I am appointing these seats now in light of a recent board proposal to dramatically restructure the board and significantly alter the company's voting rights," Kalanick said in a statement. "It is therefore essential that the full board be in place for proper deliberation to occur, especially with such experienced board members as Ursula and John," he said.
"I am confident that, with their additions and Dara's appointment, Uber will be well situated to focus on the future and continue to revolutionize how cities move."
Uber hit back at the appointments saying they came as a "complete surprise" to the company and its board.
"That is precisely why we are working to put in place world-class governance to ensure that we are building a company every employee and shareholder can be proud of," Uber said.
After months of controversies and scandals surrounding the company, Kalanick resigned as CEO of Uber in June after a group of investors demanded he immediately step down from the post. Since then, fierce tensions among Uber investors emerged in the public after Benchmark Capital, one of Uber's earliest investors, filed a lawsuit for "selfish" fraud to force Kalanick off the board and revoke his ability to fill the other two seats on the board.
The case was later moved to arbitration by a Delaware judge, allowing Kalanick to keep the dispute with Benchmark and any other potentially damaging disclosures out of public view.
Kalanick's power move also comes as Uber negotiates a multi-billion dollar investment from Japanese firm SoftBank and after Uber appointed former Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi as its new CEO in August.
"For Travis, it is all about keeping power," an unnamed source told Recode.
"Ursula & John bring 50+ years of combined executive experience to @Uber's board - helping the company become stronger now & for the future," Kalanick tweeted on Friday.