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2014 Man of the Year: Travis Kalanick

• January 1, 2015 4:00 pm

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It is a testament to the tremendous success of ridesharing service Uber that Acela Corridor pundits simultaneously revile the company and consider its service an inalienable right that must be provided at prices they deem "fair."

Travis Kalanick, Uber’s 38-year-old founder and chief executive, does not shy from confrontation. But he has surely noticed the steady stream of bad press heaped upon his company this year.

The latest and perhaps most absurd case involved the company’s Sydney, Australia, arm, which, pursuant to the normal operations of its "surge pricing" algorithm, jacked up fares during the city’s recent terrorist hostage crisis.

Media Twitter went ballistic. By Sunday evening, it seemed fewer beltway reporters were talking about an unfolding hostage crisis that left two hostages dead than the fact that Uber was charging customers in the area higher-than-usual prices.

The point of surge prices is to get more drivers on the road. Did Uber’s critics want fewer people to have access to its services? Did they want the company to eat the cost? The substance of the critiques mattered less than displaying that the people making them held Very Serious Opinions.

How did the company land so squarely in the sights of the country’s media elite? It offended journalism’s most sacred cow: journalists.

BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith last month reported on offhand comments made by an Uber executive at what he thought was an off-the-record dinner. Emil Michael mused that the company could, if it chose, dig up dirt on journalists that he felt were unfair in their coverage of the company.

Tensions between the company and reporters both on and off the tech beat had been brewing for some time. Uber has served as a lightning rod for critiques of Silicon Valley more generally.

Yet through all the social media outrages and Two Minute Hates, Uber is crushing it. Kalanick has faced down regulators and politicians, their union cronies, hoards of horn-honking cabbie protesters, shrieking pundits, and indignant competitors.

He’s emerged with a company valued at $40 billion. The source of its success: providing a service that people want at a fair price. Kalanick and his team are the embodiment of disruptive progress.

For besting the legions of haters and naysayers, Travis Kalanick is a 2014 Free Beacon Man of the Year.

Published under: Man of the Year