NPR may well have uncovered the source of problems at Uber (and maybe Harvard, too). Monday’s “All Things Considered” included an interview of Frances Frei who has taken a position at Uber of “senior vice president of leadership and strategy” and also serves as associate dean at Harvard business school.

It started with Frei giving interviewer and co-host Ari Shapiro the answer she thought he wanted to the question, “Have you ever seen a company this large without a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer?” She responded, “So what you want me to say is unusual, and I will. It’s unusual.” She proceeded to blather on in some incomplete sentences and concluded that everyone is working “diligently,” though she didn’t actually say they were trying to fill the positions.

Then Shapiro asked, “As long as we have you here, would you like to make any news about who the CEO might be?” Her response: “That’s – that is really quite adorable of you.” She followed it with, “I reward you for trying.”

Adorable? I had to go back and look at the transcript to make sure I heard her.

Think about the uproar if he had described her that way, or if any male interviewer had said the same to a female guest. No doubt firing on the spot would have led the demands.

Maybe she’s of such an advanced age that she falls into the “too old to change behavior” slot, but if I were folks at Harvard – and at Uber – I’d have a quiet sit-down with her. The message: Don’t patronize your interviewer, and don’t act like an old fogey. At Harvard, re-education might be in order, especially if she’s transmitting patronizitis to students. Maybe the powers that be should look around to see if other faculty have caught it.

Frei obviously knew the question was coming. Couldn’t she come up with a more sophisticated answer? Maybe – “I knew you were going to ask me that. We are searching in all the places that Uber goes – and some where it doesn’t. We will let you know as soon as we have the passenger on board.”

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