Uber said Friday that it has hired Tony West, a former Justice Department official and the current general counsel at PepsiCo, as its chief legal officer — a key position for the company as it faces several lawsuits and federal investigations.
West will join Uber’s executive ranks as many of the company’s most senior jobs remain vacant, including chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of engineering. The company has been searching to fill these roles as it tries to move past a tumultuous period marked by controversies, sweeping internal reforms and the departure of former chief executive Travis Kalanick. Uber brought on
former Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi in August to lead the company.
West said he is clear-eyed about the challenges ahead.
“I’m not the first to recognize that the company over-indexed on growth without putting in the appropriate guardrails,” he said in an interview Friday. “Fostering a culture of compliance is going to be one of my top priorities.”
West served as the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division in 2009 before becoming associate attorney general in 2012, the third highest-ranking official at the department in the Obama administration. While at the Justice Department, West oversaw the department’s civil rights efforts, as well as enforcement of consumer protection laws.
“West’s contacts and knowledge at DOJ will be invaluable,” said David Kass, a professor of finance at the University of Maryland. “Having been at DOJ at a very senior level he would be familiar with the appropriate way to communicate with and approach DOJ, and help resolve any issues that may come up.” Kass noted that the hire should bolster the image of Uber in a major way, especially as it faces heightened legal threats.
In 2014, West joined PepsiCo, known for household brands such as Quaker and Pepsi-Cola, to lead the company’s legal and public policy teams. West said that since his law school days he has been involved in various diversity initiatives, and at Pepsi he led efforts to boost the diversity of outside counsel that worked with the company. He also prioritized diversity recruitment and hiring.
Joining Uber will be a homecoming of sorts for West, who was born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose. “Silicon Valley has always been in my blood,” he said. West is married to Maya Harris, a lawyer and political analyst for MSNBC, who was also a senior policy adviser to the Clinton campaign. West’s sister-in-law, Kamala D. Harris, is the Democratic U.S. senator from California.
At Uber, West will soon inherit an array of thorny legal and policy issues. Uber is still reeling from high-profile sexual harassment complaints, executive departures and a significant trade secrets lawsuit from Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Earlier this week, three Latina engineers sued Uber in San Francisco, alleging discrimination based on their gender and race. The lawsuit states that Uber’s unfair practices have led to lost earnings and promotions.
This summer, Uber underwent a massive corporate overhaul, adopting 47 recommendations put forward by former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who along with colleagues at law firm Covington & Burling spent months investigating Uber’s internal culture. The changes included new hiring practices, bolstered diversity efforts, and new reporting requirements to handle complains of harassment.
Speaking generally, West said “Sexual harassment and gender discrimination is real, it’s far more pervasive than I think people have been willing to acknowledge,” adding, “it happens in all companies and all professions and the important thing is both now exposing it, recognizing it, allowing people to safely come forward and to address it.”
In a memo to staff, Khosrowshahi said, “Tony is exactly what Uber needs now,” noting that PepsiCo has been consistently named one of the world’s most ethical companies. “Under Tony’s leadership, I’m confident that we will one day join this list.”