Rachel Whetstone, who has steered Uber CEO Travis Kalanick through a series of S-turn crises since joining the company from Google as global head of public policy and communications nearly two years ago, yesterday became its latest senior executive to resign. Her deputy, Jill Hazelbaker, will succeed her.
“I am incredibly proud of the team that we’ve built,” Whetstone said in a written statement while making herself unavailable for comment. “I joined Uber because I love the product — and that love is as strong today as it was when I booked my very first ride six years ago.”
Hazelbaker joined Uber as VP of communications and public policy in November 2015. Before that, she spent a year leading Snapchat’s communications and policy efforts, according to her LinkedIn profile, and was a Google PR exec before that. Prior to her tech career, she worked in campaigns for political candidates such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's and Sen. John McCain when he ran for president in 2008.
“Whetstone’s departure robs Uber of its longest-serving senior female executive. It comes less than two months after Travis Kalanick, chief executive, promised an overhaul of the company’s culture in the wake of damning allegations by a former female programmer about a culture that was hostile to women, including a failure to deal with sexual harassment allegations,” points out Richard Waters for Financial Times.
“Whetstone was herself instrumental in forging the company’s internal response to the scandal, which included a high-level external investigation into the harassment claims and a commitment to boost diversity efforts,” Waters continues. “It was not clear whether her departure was linked to the fallout from that scandal.”
Sources tellRecode’s Kara Swisher that the decision “was multi-faceted, including Whetstone’s lack of appetite for even more drama after running comms at Google for many years before her stint at Uber.”
Kalanick and Whetstone “had a complicated relationship, according to three current and former employees who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters,” reports Mike Isaac for the New York Times. Both “are intense personalities and occasionally clashed over how to handle external communications, especially in times of crisis, these people said.”
There have been many triggers for conflict lately.
“The backlash against Uber this year started after Kalanick joined President Donald Trump’s business advisory board. The move helped jumpstart the hashtag #DeleteUber, which drove hundreds of thousands of people to get rid of the app,” writesBloomberg Technology’s Eric Newcomer. “The company has faced crisis after crisis, including a video published by Bloomberg that shows Kalanick arguing brashly with an Uber driver.”
Recode’s Swisher reports “there has been some recent tension between her and Kalanick, with some investors blaming bad press for Uber’s woes (wrong!), although sources said that was expected given all the controversies at the company of late.” She also points out that “morale at the company is, no surprise, low, and its external image — already problematic — has been badly tarnished. But that is not, as I wrote last week, Whetstone’s fault.”
Nor has been the exodus of other senior managers.
“Jeff Jones, the second in command to Kalanick, said last month he was quitting after six months on the job because of concerns over the firm's management culture. Other big departures include the head of Uber's maps business, the head of growth and product, and the head of engineering,” reports Jethro Mullen for CNN Tech.
“Whetstone is a former political operative in the U.K. and helped Google manage antitrust battles with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Union during a decade-long stint at the search giant,” Georgia Wells reports for the Wall Street Journal.
“At Uber, she was brought on to help the pugnacious company strike a more diplomatic tone as it clashed with regulators and courted controversy around the world, sometimes skirting local laws and daring authorities to stop its service.”
Then there’s trying to take the edge off Kalanick, whose “at times frat-like behavior over the company's eight-year history has come into sharper focus in recent months,” as Jessica Guynn puts it for USA Today.
“An internal probe looking into ex-engineer Susan Fowler's accusations of discrimination against female employees will be made public when it concludes in late April. The probe, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is relying in part on tip-lines where employees can relate their tales anonymously,” Guynn reports.
Our seat belts are fastened.