PARIS — In the same cavernous building where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before being sent to the guillotine, the trial of two Uber executives accused of violating France’s transportation and privacy laws concluded on Thursday.
Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty and Thibaud Simphal will learn their fate on June 9, the day the court said it will deliver a verdict. Last summer, the two were arrested after Uber, the world’s most valuable digital ride-hailing service, refused to obey a 2014 order to shut down UberPop, the now suspended service that connected customers with unregistered drivers. Gore-Coty, 31, head of Uber’s European operations and Simphal, 34, who manages Uber in France, were charged with operating an illegal taxi operation, commercial deception and violating privacy laws.
The two could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison, but at a hearing two weeks ago the prosecutor did not request jail time. Instead, she asked the court to ban both men from managing any company in France for five years and to fine them. She also sought a fine for Uber equal to $1.1 million. Uber’s standard service in France, which relies on registered and licensed drivers, is unaffected.
Leading up to Thursday’s hearing, Gore-Coty posted comments online that explained Uber’s history and philosophy in France. He wrote about the premium the company puts on adapting to change. He said rapidly growing companies must question established truths and then added, “Uber has sometimes gone too far in this matter, which makes us appear unnecessarily aggressive rather than constructive.”
To Uber’s critics, “unnecessarily aggressive” has always been the company’s biggest problem. Gore-Coty seems to understand this perception of Uber exists, and how the company’s actions, such as declining to shut down UberPop and daring the government to act, might have led some to conclude Uber’s strategy was rash and misguided. But Gore-Coty suggests that to understand what Uber is trying to accomplish, one must “look beyond appearances.” In his comments, the executive makes it clear Uber plans to do things differently than other companies, chart its own course.
To drive home his point, Gore-Coty closed with a quote often credited to Albert Einstein: “The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before.”