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4 Things to Learn From the Corporate Equivalent of Goofus and Gallant (Uber and Lyft) in 2017

One had a bad year, one had a (mostly) good year. See what lessons can be taken away from it all.

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BY Serhat Pala - 10 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Some of you may know of Goofus and Gallant. It's a comic strip in Highlights for Children that follows the exploits of two similar boys. Goofus always seems to do the wrong thing while Gallant always seems to do things right.

In the business world in 2017, we had our own Goofus and Gallant. Two similar companies that had wildly different years, mainly due to the behavior of the people running them.

I give you: Uber and Lyft. Let's see what we can learn about behavior from these two boys, er, I mean, companies.

1. Handling of the NYC taxi strike

Uber got embroiled in controversy in January by sending out a tweet that seemingly undermined the New York City taxi drivers' strike in response to President Donald Trump's Muslim ban. The company sent out a tweet saying surge pricing was not in effect at JFK Airport around the time of the strike. People called for an Uber boycott, reportedly causing Uber to lose thousands of users.

(Uber would later issue statements condemning the ban and apologizing for the tweet about surge pricing.)

Lyft avoided controversy by promptly issuing a statement saying it stood in solidarity with the strikers and condemned the ban.

The Lesson: Promote solidarity instead of divisiveness. Take any opportunity you can to show your company is one of inclusivity and equality.

2. Lawsuits and data breaches

Uber allegedly misinformed its workers about how much they'd be making and, in February, was forced to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit for $20 million. In May, the company also admitted it underpaid New York City drivers tens of millions of dollars.

In addition to that, it was revealed in November of last year that the company was not forthcoming about a data breach in October of 2016 that compromised the information of millions of users and drivers.

Lyft went the whole year without having to settle any lawsu--oh, wait. Never mind. They had to settle a $27 million driver misclassification lawsuit. This is the rare double-Goofus.

The lesson: Be honest and transparent in everything you do. The truth will come out eventually, whether it's in the boardroom, the lunchroom or the courtroom. Just be truthful with any stakeholders in your company.

3. Toxic culture

Uber promoted a corporate culture so toxic from the top down that in June, now-former CEO Travis Kalanick was forced out of the very company he founded. It was revealed by a former employee in a February blog post that Uber had a culture of rampant sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Later reports verified this.

In addition to that, Uber's own diversity report released in March showed that a predominantly white, male oriented company, severely lacking in diversity.

Perhaps buoyed by this type of culture, one of Uber's top executives was found to have illegally obtained the medical records of an Indian woman who was raped in an Uber car. He reportedly did this in an effort to discredit her.

As if all that wasn't enough, also in March, Kalanick was caught on video berating an Uber driver.

Lyft's CEO remained in place throughout the year, and there was no word about toxicity or lack of diversity within the company.

The lesson: Promote a corporate culture of positivity, respect and inclusivity. There have been myriad articles written about how diversity is good for companies and a harassment free workplace is just common decency.

4. Secret tools, corporate spying

Uber reportedly had a secret tool that allowed it to systematically deceive the authorities in certain cities where it broke local laws. The New York Times reported on the so-called "Greyball" tool in March.

Just a month later, it was revealed that a secret Uber program known as "Hell" allowed it to monitor drivers from its biggest rival, Lyft. Uber is currently under investigation by the FBI for Hell.

And, the rotten cherry to top it all off is that in February, Uber was sued by Google's self-driving car company Waymo for allegedly stealing its technology. While the lawsuit is still going through court, it's not looking good for Uber, with the executive at the middle of the lawsuit, Anthony Levandowski, reportedly invoking the fifth amendment in March to avoid potentially incriminating himself. The judge overseeing the case reportedly rebuked Uber's lawyers for withholding evidence. Levandowski was fired in May.

Lyft avoided any allegations of cheating, spying or theft all year. It continued to attract investors. Among those investors was Google's parent company, Alphabet, and Jaguar Land Rover. It also forged strategic business partnerships, including with the aforementioned Waymo.

The lesson: Engage in healthy corporate competition and avoid cheating and spying. Obviously you have to worry about competition, but it should serve to make your company stronger. Invest in improvement, not sneaky tactics.

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