You've probably had at least one first day on the job that didn't go as planned. But you've likely never had as bad a first day as Tony West did when he became Uber's chief legal officer. The day he first arrived at the company was the same day Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed to the public that the company had suffered a massive data breach a year earlier. In that breach, personal information on 57 million riders and drivers was compromised, including the driver's license numbers of 600,000 Uber drivers.
On a normal first day, you get a tour, your boss takes you to lunch, you get introduced to the people you'll be working with, and you take some time to set up your office the way you like it. But as chief legal officer, West's very first task was to call up state attorneys general all over the country and let them know what had happened. "I learned about the data breach about 48 hours before I was telling people about the data breach," West said during an onstage fireside chat at last month's GeekWire Summit in Seattle.
Why didn't Uber disclose the breach back in 2016, when it happened? Uber was a very different company back then. Founder Travis Kalanick was still CEO. Kalanick, who enthusiastically embraced "toe-stepping" as one of his company's values, had a take-no-prisoners approach to running Uber and created a culture to match. When the company, under his leadership, learned of the giant breach, it ransomed the data by paying the hacker a $100,000 "bug bounty." Bug bounties are normally used to reward hackers who alert a company to a potential security issue, not to bribe hackers to give back data they've already stolen. But that's what Uber did, and it kept the whole incident secret.
The following year, Kalanick was forced out as CEO after revelations of a toxic corporate culture that, among other things, routinely turned a blind eye to sexual harassment. (He retained much of his stock and a seat on the board.) Khosrowshahi, who had been CEO of Expedia, was tapped by Uber's board to become its new CEO, and he brought in West.
"I knew there would be big challenges," West told the GeekWire audience. I knew there would be days when I opened up a closet and a skeleton would fall out. Fortunately, there are fewer now than there were when I started."
Which raises an obvious question: Why work for Uber at all? It's not like West was desperate for a job--he had been general counsel at PepsiCo when Khosrowshahi hired him, and before that, associate attorney general of the U.S.--the third highest-ranking job at the Justice Department.
"I had the opportunity to meet Dara Khosrowshahi and he spun out this vision that was about having a mobility platform, and how do we make the world move, and how do we do the right thing?" West explained. "I fell in love with this idea that you could press a button and an SUV would show up. That idea of bringing mobility to places where it hadn't been an easy option--that was a pretty compelling mission. It was a huge, huge challenge."
West has been working with Khosrowshahi to instill a new, more responsible culture at Uber. Sometimes, he said, it means doing unpleasant things--such as calling up AGs and letting them know that your company had a data breach and kept it secret for more than a year.
Asked why anyone should start trusting Uber again, West points to that admission and to some of the other steps he and Uber have taken, such as hiring the person who drafted former attorney general Eric Holder's scathing report on Uber and settling the data breach case for $148 million to be divided among all 50 states. Uber also voluntarily ended forced arbitration for victims of sexual harassment, something that Google only recently did, under pressure from tens of thousands of protesters.
Uber also reached a settlement with Waymo, which sued Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets to build its self-driving technology. The settlement included giving Waymo some stock in Uber. West said the settlement was "an opportunity to increase Google's investment in Uber so now we're partners, not adversaries." [Google and Waymo are both part of Alphabet Inc.]
Speaking of self-driving technology, the new Uber reacted quite differently than the old Uber would have when a self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona earlier this year. Uber announced it was ending self-driving testing in the state. Compare that with Tesla, which concealed the fact that one of its cars had a fatal crash in autopilot mode for months after it happened.
"The most important thing to come out of [Uber's self-driving accident] were lessons about safety," West said. "How do you make sure you're acting in ways that incentivize safety throughout the product development cycle? That's why we ordered a top-to-bottom safety review 48 hours after the accident. We hired a former National Transportation Safety Board chair to conduct the review, and we are going to release the results to the public."
The new Uber also interacts with the cities where it operates very differently than the old one did. "We recognize that our success is tied to the sustainability of cities," West said. "There are partnerships we can build that we wouldn't have thought about in the early days, such as with taxi companies."
Cities are starting to take notice. "When Dara joined and I joined, we had lost our license in London," West said. "Today, we have that license back. That's because there was a lot of personal diplomacy. We're still on probation, so we have to fly right."
As for users, he said, "If you deleted Uber, give us another chance. And don't just look at what we say. Look at what we do."