According to an internal email from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the company’s high-profile head of communications and policy Rachel Whetstone is departing.“I wanted to let you know that Rachel Whetstone, who heads up policy and communications globally, has decided to leave Uber,” wrote Kalanick. “Since joining in 2015, Rachel has blown us all away with her ability to get stuff done. She is a force of nature, an extraordinary talent and an amazing player-coach who has built a first-class organization.”
Uber confirmed the departure and when I pinged Whetstone for comment, she sent me this statement: “I am incredibly proud of the team that we’ve built — and that just as when I left Google, a strong and brilliant woman will be taking my place. I joined Uber because I love the product — and that love is as strong today as it was when I booked my very first ride six years ago.”
Sources close to the car-hailing company said that the decision to leave was multi-faceted, including Whetstone’s lack of appetite for even more drama after running comms at Google for many years before her stint at Uber.
There has been some recent tension between her and Kalanick, with some investors blaming bad press for Uber’s woes (wrong!), although sources said that was expected given all the controversies at the company of late. That includes a massive investigation into allegations of pervasive sexism at the company, as well as a troublesome lawsuit initiated by Alphabet that alleges that the company stole self-driving car technology.
Whetstone’s top deputy, Jill Hazelbaker, will take over as SVP global public policy and communications, heading a 300-person organization.
She’ll be the one who will have to handle all the attention sure to result when the investigation into Uber’s practices comes out within the month.
Whetstone is yet another top-level executive departure at Uber, which is facing what amounts to an existential crisis, if startups could have them. Its head of engineering left after revelations of a previous sexual harassment investigation came to light and its top product exec left due to questionable personal behavior at a company event with another employee.
In addition, its president Jeff Jones also left in mid-March after clashing with Kalanick and kicked the company’s culture on the way out. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.
Morale at the company is, no surprise, low, and its external image — already problematic — has been badly tarnished.
Here is Kalanick’s entire email:
I wanted to let you know that Rachel Whetstone, who heads up policy and communications globally, has decided to leave Uber.
Since joining in 2015, Rachel has blown us all away with her ability to get stuff done. She is a force of nature, an extraordinary talent and an amazing player-coach who has built a first-class organization. Importantly, Rachel was way ahead of the game when it came to many of the changes we needed to make as a company to ensure our future success—from promoting cross-functional teamwork to improving diversity and inclusion. Her commitment to excellence in every way is inspiring and I am looking forward to having her as an advisor for years to come, with many more long hikes along the Skyline Trail.
Rachel is passing the reins over to her longtime right hand Jill Hazelbaker, our newly minted Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Communications. For those of you who haven’t met Jill, her background is in politics and she brings deep experience in policy, communications and tech. She’s a great team player, terrific at setting priorities and brilliant at seeing around corners. The policy and communications function is incredibly strategic at Uber and I could not be more excited about partnering with Jill to help write the next chapter.
Please join me in thanking Rachel and wishing Jill all the best.