Uber is done playing fast-and-loose with the law

Uber’s new general counsel, Tony West.
Uber’s new general counsel, Tony West.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
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It’s a new Uber under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

The company said today (Oct. 27) that it had hired Tony West, current general counsel of PepsiCo, as its chief legal officer. West previously served as a high-ranking Justice Department official under the Obama administration, where he oversaw major investigations into banks that repackaged rotten mortgage-backed securities to investors ahead of the financial crisis. Under his tenure, the Justice Department announced its largest single corporate settlement ever, $16.6 billion with Bank of America.

Tl;dr: This is not the guy you hire to sweep a legal mess under the rug. It’s who you hire to clean it up.

West will start in November at Uber, where he’ll have a lot of cleaning to do. The ride-hailing company, valued at nearly $70 billion, faces at least five criminal probes in the US, plus dozens of civil lawsuits. Uber is scheduled to go to trial in December against driverless car maker Waymo, which sued it earlier this year for allegedly stealing trade secrets with its acquisition of self-driving trucking startup Otto. The criminal probes include an investigation into Uber’s use of “greyball” software to evade law enforcement and another into whether the company violated price transparency laws.

Uber’s longtime chief legal officer Salle Yoo resigned in September, the latest in a string of executive departures Uber has faced this year. Yoo joined Uber in 2012 and encouraged her team to find “creative” solutions that would help Kalanick accomplish his goals, which often entailed ignoring or outright breaking laws.

“I tell my team, ‘We’re not here to solve legal problems. We’re here to solve business problems. Legal is our tool,’” Yoo said on a podcast earlier this year. “I am going to be supportive of innovation.”

In an email to staff, Khosrowshahi, who joined Uber from Expedia in late August, called West “exactly what Uber needs.” In addition to his experience as a federal prosector, West focused on diversity at Pepsi.

The appointment is a “definite rebuke” to the old way of doing things at Uber, a former regional Uber executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Quartz. Earlier this year, Uber hired former US attorney general Eric Holder to investigate its corporate culture and multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Other notable departures from Uber in recent months include Jo Bertram, former head of Northern Europe; Gautam Gupta, former head of finance, and Dave Clark, former head of external affairs.