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Uber’s head of communications, Rachel Whetstone, is leaving

The longtime PR pro is being replaced by her deputy Jill Hazelbaker.

Outgoing Uber comms head Rachel Whetstone

According to an internal email from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the company’s high-profile head of communications and policy Rachel Whetstone is departing after two years.

“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.

In an email to her staff, Whetstone referenced that drama, talking about “always-on jobs” that are exciting yet exhausting, too.

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 worked with Whetstone at Google and was more recently head of comms at Snap for a very short stint. Hazelbaker also has a deep political background, having worked for Sen. John McCain on his presidential campaign.

Now Jill Hazelbaker gets the hot potato at the car-hailing company.

She’ll now be the one who will have to handle all the attention sure to result when the investigation into Uber’s management practices comes out within the month.

And she will inherit spinning for a beleaguered management team. 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. Uber is now searching for a COO.

There have been a number of other key departures, such as in mapping and in its self-driving car unit.

The tough-talking Whetstone was a big hire for Uber when she replaced the previous big hire, Obama political guru David Plouffe, in mid-2015. She had headed Google’s shop after Elliot Schrage went to Facebook and before that had worked in politics in the U.K.

At Google, she had her hands full with the European Union’s battle with the search giant over limiting the power of its services. She also had to deal with questionable personal hijinks among its execs, especially after co-founder Sergey Brin left his wife for another Google employee who was then dating the head of its Android division. (Frankly, it’s a wonder that that soap opera debacle did not result in Whetstone departing PR for good.)

But she also had a number of victories at Google, including fighting back against similar search power inquiries by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Whetstone also has a witty side to her hard-charging efforts, such as when she wrote a blog post titled “Really, Rupert?” to strike back at a Wall Street Journal editorial about Google’s power. Referring to its leader Rupert Murdoch, it included a GIF of a laughing baby, the word “blimey” and yet another GIF from an Eddie Murphy movie.

But her efforts at Google could not prepare her for the situation at Uber, which started off well enough. Whetstone reorganized the staff and let many people go, as well as temporarily tamping down its famously pugnacious image.

That did not last long as the controversies piled up high in the wake of an explosive blog post by a former female engineer, Susan Fowler, who has become the straw that broke Uber’s bro back. Or ruined their fun related to leather jackets.

Since then, along with the management upheaval and incessant I-am-so-sorrys from Kalanick, Uber is waiting for the investigation results, which are being prepared by former Attorney General Eric Holder. Given Uber’s huge valuation and the massive investments in it by pretty much every power player in Silicon Valley and beyond, what happens next is being closely watched.

Morale at the company is, no surprise, low, and its external image — already problematic — has been badly tarnished. But that is not, as I wrote last week, Whetstone’s fault:

Thus, those who keep insisting to me that PR is the problem for Uber have to catch a clue: The company is having troubles because it neglected to put key human resources and management systems in place that would counter its rich-frat-boy-meets-Vegas tendencies. It needs to do that now and quickly; it needs to complete a thorough and independent investigation that names names and exacts some form of justice.

Here is Kalanick’s entire email:

Team -

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.


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