- Uber general counsel Tony West wasn’t always so rosy about his outlook on the ride-hailing company.
- In 2017, West recalled saying to a colleague “Man, I’m glad I’m not the GC of that company.”
- That all changed after a steak dinner with current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Now he’s the company’s top lawyer.
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In early 2017, Tony West, then the general counsel for Pepsi, had just finished a meeting with a member of his staff when he noticed a New York Times issue on the table of his office.
On the front page, above the fold, was a damning exposé: “Uber’s Culture of Gutsiness Under Review,” a headline read. The 1,400-word story would mark the beginning of a massive shift on Uber’s part from scrappy startup gearing for astronomical growth to a publicly traded, global entity.
For West, it would catalyze a career change, one that even he wasn’t aware of at the time.
“I remember finishing that article and tossing the paper on my table and saying to say to my colleague: ‘Man, I’m glad I’m not the GC of that company, they’ve got some real problems,'” West told the New York Stock Exchange’s “Inside the ICE house” podcast, published Wednesday.
Fast forward a few months, a Dara Khosrowshahi, who had recently taken over the helm of Uber following the ousting of founder Travis Kalanick, was eagerly trying to convince West, a former federal prosecutor, to join Uber.
“What was supposed to be a thirty-minute meeting turned into an hour-long meeting,” West said. “We were talking about this incredible company which I had fallen in love with as a consumer years before. I was already someone who had it on my phone and used it all the time.”
Over steak, the pair discussed “the challenges [Uber] was facing, what it would take to turn around the culture, to turn around the legal problems, to begin to unlock the enormous potential that this company had, and the fact that he needed a partner in getting that done.”
West saw it as a challenge custom-built for his skills acquired at Harvard, Stanford, the Department of Justice, and Pepsi.
“I left that meeting in a very different mind space, in terms of both thinking about what an incredible opportunity this was, and clearly the challenges the company was facing at that time, which really fit my resume,” he said.
“They needed help with regulators, I had been a regulator. They needed someone who understood the governance of a public company, I had been the GC of one of the largest public companies in the world,” he said. “And so when you put it all together, it seemed like a perfect match. The rest, as they say, is history.”
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