Uber Taps Arianna Huffington as First Woman Board Member

Huffington on Silicon Valley's Cutthroat Culture
  • Ride-hailing startup faces nasty battles with Lyft, rivals
  • Huffington will bring `optimistic leadership,' CEO says

Uber named Arianna Huffington the first woman to its board as the $60 billion startup faces battles globally in the increasingly competitive ride-hailing industry.

Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, will help take Uber to the next level with her “optimistic leadership,” Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said in a blog posting announcing the move. She joins a board that includes venture capital investor Bill Gurley and David Plouffe, the political strategist who was President Barack Obama’s campaign manager in the 2008 election season.

“From the start of our friendship it was obvious that she believes deeply in our mission: transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone,” Kalanick said. She will bring some “ethos and pathos to our Uber logos,” he said. He also wanted to have a fellow chess master on the board, he said in an interview on CNBC.

Last June Huffington said she signed a four-year contract to remain in her roles at the Huffington Post following its acquisition by Verizon Communications Inc. She founded the news website in 2005.

Technology companies have been under pressure to add more women to their top ranks. The addition of Huffington to the board gives Uber, founded in 2009, a female director earlier in its life than, say, Facebook Inc., which welcomed Sheryl Sandberg to the inner circle in 2012.

However, Uber has faced criticism for its attitude toward women. In 2014, an Uber executive suggested the company should dig up the personal details of a female journalist, and in an embarrassing turn of events last year, the United Nations backed out of a UN Women partnership with Uber amid pressure from union and non-governmental organizations. Lyft Inc., Uber’s main competitor in the U.S., paints itself as a more female-friendly service, with a larger share of its drivers being women.

Meanwhile, Uber is working to fulfill a promise to shareholders and employees that it will be profitable in North America by the second quarter of 2016, and at the same time, is accelerating its expansion to global markets as it seeks to justify its valuation. It has also been facing increasing competition from Lyft in the U.S. and from other ride-sharing services elsewhere in the world. 

While Uber has a moral obligation to find liquidity for its investors and employees, the five-year-old company is still too young to go public, Kalanick said on CNBC. Uber faces resistance from traditional taxi systems worldwide, in an industry where competition is outlawed, he said.

Uber recently agreed to pay as much as $100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from drivers who claimed they should be classified as employees, not independent contractors. As part of the deal, interpreted by some as a big win for the company, Uber will no longer ban them for failing to accept new fares -- what the company calls deactivation. That’s a new way to hold Uber accountable, Kalanick said.

“The question for Uber is do we resist the future or find a way to become part of it,” he said. “If we embrace it, then it’s how to optimistically lead through it.”

(A previous version of this story corrected the spelling of Huffington’s name in the headline.)

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