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Frei to Return to HBS after Stint at Uber

Frances Frei
Business School professor Frances X. Frei

Business School professor Frances X. Frei will return to teaching full-time at Harvard after working for Uber, where she had been hired in June as part of an effort to remedy a corporate culture many have called toxic.

Frei, who is currently on a leave of absence from her roles as senior associate dean for executive education and professor of service management at HBS, had been hired as a senior vice president of leadership and strategy for the ridesharing company, which has been criticized as a hotbed of sexual misconduct and unethical business practices.

In an interview with Recode, a technology news website, on Tuesday, Frei said she was specifically brought on to serve as a “coach and complement” for former CEO Travis C. Kalanick, who had been accused of covering up allegations of sexual harassment and berating an Uber driver in a viral video. Fewer than two weeks after Frei was hired, Kalanick was forced to resign amidst an overhaul of the company’s corporate employees.

Frei stayed on as Uber hired former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to replace Kalanick. “As soon as the executive team was calmer, I turned my attention to 3,000 managers whose jobs grew well beyond their skills, which I think was the real work,” Frei told Recode.

At Uber, Frei designed an online Harvard Executive Education program that used the HBS case method to teach more than 6,000 of the company’s employees about leadership. Before returning to Harvard, she will implement another such program for the company “with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities,” Khosrowshahi wrote in a company memo released by Recode.

“Because of her, Uber now has a world-class corporate education program that thousands of you have attended, and an enthusiastic partnership with one of the best universities in the world,” Khosrowshahi wrote in a company memo.

Alix Anfang, a spokesperson for Uber, wrote in an email that Frei will continue teaching for the first program and remain an adviser to the company after returning to Cambridge, from where she has been commuting to Uber headquarters in San Francisco for the past nine months.

“Frances has made an incredible contribution to Uber at a critical time in our company’s history, from building and running a first-of-its-kind leadership and education program to helping our new leaders be set up for success,” Anfang wrote. “We are delighted that Frances will continue to serve as an advisor to Uber and teach the Harvard Executive Education program she designed.”

“To all my friends here at Uber — thank YOU for such a terrific experience and for being my teachers throughout the last nine months,” wrote Frei in a separate memo. “I’ll miss everyone here, but I also can’t wait to apply everything I learned to my next project — while wearing an Uber t-shirt, of course.”

Frei did not respond to requests for comment.

—Staff writer Grace A. Greason can be reached at grace.greason@thecrimson.com.

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