Uber’s Michael Said to Retain Support After Remarks

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Uber Senior VP Emil Michael
Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc., has apologized for his remarks, saying on Twitter that he was “plain wrong.” Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Emil Michael, the Uber Technologies Inc. executive whose criticisms of journalists led to calls for his firing this week, is so far withstanding that pressure.

That’s because the 42-year-old executive has been central to the startup’s growth, playing a role in everything from a financing round in June that valued Uber at $17 billion, to its partnerships and international expansion, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Earlier this week, Uber unveiled a partnership with music-streaming service Spotify Ltd. that Michael helped to hammer out, said one of the people, who declined to be identified because the situation is sensitive.

At least two investors and the senior management of the San Francisco-based mobile car-booking application -- including Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick -- are firmly behind Michael, who is Uber’s senior vice president of business, said the people.

An Uber representative declined to comment or make Michael available for comment.

“I’m not surprised they haven’t fired him,” said Joe Fernandez, co-founder of social-media analytics company Klout Inc., where Michael previously worked. “The Uber board has known him for 10 years and Travis knows him well. They know what Emil is really about and I’m glad they didn’t make a rushed decision under a huge amount of pressure.”

Uber Fallout

While the support could change if there are new revelations, Michael’s position has so far stood firm following almost a week of blowback from comments that he made at a New York dinner party about prying into journalists’ lives. Uber is now also investigating a New York-based manager who tracked the whereabouts of a BuzzFeed reporter using the app without her permission. Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, has called for Uber to answer questions about its privacy policies and the company has hired a law firm to conduct an internal review.

Michael has apologized for his remarks, saying on Twitter that he was “plain wrong.” Kalanick tweeted earlier this week that he, along with Michael, would learn from their mistakes.

“I don’t believe Uber management needs to be replaced,” Shawn Carolan, a partner at Menlo Ventures, which invested in Uber and where he is a board observer, said earlier this week.

Fernandez said when he heard the remarks Michael made, he thought to himself, “It can’t be right. That’s not the Emil I know.”

Growth First

Michael’s position has been secure as he has been integral to Uber’s growth, said the people. His team is in charge of Uber’s partnerships and he is known for his deal-making prowess. Michael worked with American Express Co. to create a loyalty program that was unveiled this year, which gives points to cardholders who use Uber. He also signed Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., along with several banks and lenders, to create an auto-financing program for Uber drivers with less-than-stellar credit.

For the introduction of Uber’s first developer tools in August, the executive helped convince almost a dozen companies, including Starbucks Corp., TripAdvisor Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., to add an Uber button to their mobile applications.

Born in Cairo, Michael came to the U.S. when his family moved to the country. He then got his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and later a law degree from Stanford University. After graduating, Michael had a brief stint at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. until 1999, when he decamped to Silicon Valley at the height of the dot-com bubble.

Michael helped start Tellme Networks Inc. in Mountain View, California, which makes the software underlying automated customer-service phone systems. Microsoft Corp. acquired the company in 2007, and Michael left shortly afterward, as did CEO Mike McCue, who now runs the online news-reading app Flipboard Inc.

White House

From 2009 to 2011, Michael was in Washington as a security adviser to the White House, serving as a special assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. During his stint with the U.S. government, Michael has said he traveled with Gates to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other destinations and also went skydiving with a commando team near MacDill Air Force base in Florida.

The lure of Silicon Valley brought Michael back in 2012 when he became chief operating officer at Klout, known for its controversial influencer score. At one point, the service deemed Justin Bieber to be more influential than President Barack Obama.

“We hit it off immediately and we spent six months getting to know each other until I offered him a job,” said Fernandez. “We worked very closely for a very long time and I never saw anything that raised an eyebrow on his ethics.”

Keeping Quiet

Michael left to join Uber in September 2013, about six months before Klout was acquired by Lithium Technologies Inc. Fernandez said Michael told him that working at Uber is intense and his dream job.

Michael once indicated that he knows how to keep things off the record, according to comments he wrote when he was working with the White House.

“I would love to talk more about my work responsibilities, but those are mostly classified,” he wrote.

(Corrects 15th paragraph of story that ran on Nov. 21 to remove erroneous reference to Michael’s consulting work for Foursquare and Tumblr.)
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