Ride-hailing firm Uber in search for new Hong Kong leader after general manager steps down

Kenneth She left the controversial company after four years, becoming chief executive of a medical and pharmaceutical arm of property conglomerate New World Development on Monday

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 10:32pm

Uber Hong Kong is looking for a leader to head its ride-hailing business after its former chief, who took the firm from launch to more than one million riders, quit the controversial firm after four years in charge.

Kenneth She Chun-chi, former general manager of Uber Hong Kong, bid farewell to his staff last Friday as he became chief executive of a medical and pharmaceutical arm of property conglomerate New World Development on Monday.

“This marks the end of my incredible journey at Uber. Saying goodbye is not easy, but I will forever cherish all the special moments in the past four years with this awesome team. Thanks for making the impossible possible,” the 31-year-old said in his goodbye message.

The ride-hailing firm, still fighting an uphill battle to make its transport business ­legitimate in the city, will be led by Uber’s head of Asia-Pacific Amit Jain until a successor is found.

“Kenneth has been instrumental in growing our business in Hong Kong over the last four years. His leadership has enabled riders and driver-partners to experience the convenience of pushing a button and getting a ride in Hong Kong, and created a community of Hongkongers who rely on Uber every day for economic opportunities and transportation options,” Jain said.

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“We wish Kenneth all the very best on his new adventure. We remain committed to Hong Kong and will be stepping in while we identify Kenneth’s successor,” he added.

A source said many Uber staff felt sad about She’s departure as he was a friendly and open-minded leader who helped the firm through many ups and downs. “He’s such a great spokesperson,” the source said.

Born into a grass-roots ­family in public housing, She worked his way up the education ladder and, thanks to scholarships, was awarded a master’s ­degree in engineering at Oxford. After a few years working in an investment bank, he joined Uber.

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As the first member of the team in the city, the most difficult time for She was the launch when there were only two other ­colleagues and 10 drivers working as partners.

She had to start from scratch with a tight budget. In an interview with the Post last year, he said he had to go out and recruit drivers by handing out leaflets on the streets himself, and visiting car parks to talk to owners of private vehicles and taxi drivers.

Now the number of Uber staff stands at more than 100, serving more than a million riders. It has more than 30,000 drivers, with 80 per cent working part-time.

The Hong Kong firm, founded four years ago, focuses on ride-sharing platforms UberX and UberBlack as well as meal delivery service UberEats. It also provides special services, such as helicopter rides, on a seasonal basis.

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Facing hostility from the local taxi trade and government crackdowns, the ride-hailing firm has been met with some setbacks. Under the law, anyone using a private car for carriage of passengers for hire or reward must ­obtain a hire car permit.

First came a landmark court ruling in March last year which saw five Uber drivers fined HK$10,000 each and banned from the road for a year, in the first convictions of their kind in Hong Kong.

The court concluded there was no significant difference between Uber drivers and pirate taxis known locally as pak pai.

Then came the conviction of 28 drivers in July this year with fines of between HK$3,800 and HK$4,500 (US$570) after being found guilty of driving passengers without a hire car permit. The group was the largest in the city to be successfully prosecuted for offering ride-sharing services.