Uber Lures Top Google Executive and Shifts David Plouffe's Duties

Uber Lures Top Google Executive and Shifts David Plouffe's Duties
Continuing its raid for top Silicon Valley talent, Uber said on Wednesday that it had hired Rachel Whetstone, Google's longtime head of communications, to be its senior vice president for policy and communications.

While Whetstone's appointment is a high-profile talent grab for Uber, the ride-hailing startup, it also shuffles the highest ranks of the company.

She takes over the role of David Plouffe, the political strategist and former campaign manager for President Barack Obama. Plouffe will move to a position as chief adviser to the company and to Travis Kalanick, Uber's chief executive, as well as take a seat on Uber's board.

It is an abrupt change to the six-year-old startup's communications team, as Plouffe was hired less than a year ago to run the company's communications strategy. At the time of his appointment, the company described his role as similar to that of running a political campaign, with Uber as "the candidate."

His abilities were even praised by executives outside Uber. "David is uniquely suited to scale and lead the same kind of insurgent campaign he did in 2008 for a Silicon Valley tech company, bridging the worlds of business and politics," Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, said at the time.

Since Plouffe joined Uber, the company has been more aggressive about polishing its image, engaging in fewer public skirmishes and offering a gentler public tone. The company has tried mending fences with European regulators who are wary of the service, and has introduced numerous charitable efforts, including pickups for clothing donations and food-drive charity efforts. Over time, it has reduced the number of headlines about its pugnacious tendency to play rough with competitors.

Whetstone has been at Google for 10 years, helping lead it through antitrust battles across two continents and investigations from the Federal Trade Commission, as well as numerous consumer privacy inquiries. Her move to Uber was first reported by the tech news site Recode.

She is another in a string of Google communications employees who have left the company to join hot startups. Last fall, Jill Hazelbaker left for Snapchat, while others have left for companies like Square, Pinterest and Tesla.

But Whetstone's departure is different. Uber and Google have long been partners in certain areas - Uber relies on Google's mapping technology and has taken hundreds of millions from Google's venture capital arm - but both companies have started to distance themselves from one another. Uber has made a bid for Nokia's mapping unit, Here, which could lessen the company's reliance on Google.

Uber has been on a fundraising tear, adding more than $4 billion to its coffers since last June. Whetstone will take over the day-to-day tasks of running Uber's communications, as well as hiring and running a global communications team as the company expands in more countries. To date, Uber is available in more than 300 cities globally.

Whetstone is one of three women on Google's senior management team. (Ruth Porat starts as the company's chief financial officer later this year.) For now, Whetstone's job will be split in two, with the public policy team reporting to David C. Drummond, Google's senior vice president for corporate development, and public relations reporting to Jessica Powell, vice president for global communications, according to a spokesman.

Going forward, Plouffe's role will be less about day-to-day communications and more about long-term, high-level strategy, the company confirmed.

© 2015 New York Times News Service


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