Off the record does not exist

Uber’s Emil Michael’s case is a textbook example that off the record does not exist. Complaining afterwards that you thought a conversation was off the record does not help you after damage has been done. Even off the record, you should never produce unethical statements like this senior executive has done.

In short, this is the case:

BuzzFeed wrote that senior executive at Uber, Emil Michael, “suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.
The executive made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views”.

How credible is the company’s statement, quoting Michael, that the company does not share Michael’s views?

“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

First of all the CEO should have issued a strong and credible apology statement, not Michael.

The response by the company is unprofessional and only makes things worse. The part: “the remarks attributed to me do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach”, has three problems:

1. Who’s views were they if they were not Michael’s? He was the one stating them and Michael is the company’s senior management.

2. How credible is this guy if he says things and later denies that these were not his views?

3. That the remarks made by Michael “have no relation to the company’s views or approach” is not credible coming from Michael. This statement should have been a statement form the CEO. The CEO should have assumed responsibility for this, showing that he takes this issue very seriously.

Uber is in a crisis. What is the company doing to turn this around? The list of reputation damaging issues is growing and the company’s CEO does not seem to be able to stop them. How about the impact on staff? Who wants to have a colleague like Michael?

Related: Reputation Damage and Tone at the Top: Uber Scandal Underscores How Corporate Culture can Bring a Company to its Knees

Related: Can a company succeed with a toxic reputation?

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