Sir, It’s as well that you informed us (“ Scandal-hit Uber faces leadership vacuum after Kalanick forced out, June 22) that Bradley Tusk is a shareholder in Uber, although we might have guessed from his comment that you cited: “Uber should be a $500bn company in 10 years that owns transportation in the way that Amazon owns retail and Apple owns personal technology.”
Mr Tusk betrays a sense of entitlement that perhaps goes back to the early land-grab days of the internet, in which a company planted
a flag on a piece of online real estate and then used network economics to make it ever more difficult over time for a competitor to oust it from its patch. Fortunately he’s wrong: Amazon (a company that I’ve defended in
your Letters columns) does not yet “own retail” any more than Apple “owns personal technology”, with Google’s Android operating system currently estimated to be between two and three times larger globally than Apple’s iOS.
Uber — touted as a pioneer in driverless cars — seems to have become a manager-less company, as related in your excellent coverage in recent months. It doesn’t seem clear to me that Uber “should” own anything at all. Of course there are a number of leading technology companies with current valuations even greater than that which Mr Tusk believes is Uber’s due, and these may imply “ownership” of large swaths of economic activity. Extrapolating the future from implied valuations hasn’t however always ended well, especially in the technology sector as we learnt painfully around the turn of the century.
Technology companies possess exceptional power to disrupt incumbency, something that the
stock market has come to understand very well. But it’s dangerous — for managers and for investors — to assume that they are entitled to ownership of their markets. Not only is this both socially and economically undesirable, but history suggests that it’s untenable over time. AOL was, after all, once upon a time believed to “own” internet access.
Senior Client Partner,
London N1, UK
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