Uber’s new SVP of business David Richter isn’t as well known as his predecessor, who was pushed out on Monday following an internal review, but at the trouble-plagued startup, that may be a good thing.
Richter has been thrust into the spotlight as he takes over for Emil Michael, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s close friend and ally, at one of the most tumultuous times for the company.
Michael was pressured to leave by the company’s board in the lead-up to a meeting set to discuss an independent investigation into its culture and management.
The ride-hail company has recently seen a parade of executives leave the company — either after being fired or resigning — and has suffered through a series of public scandals, the most recent of which involved an executive obtaining the medical records of a rape victim in India.
Mentions of Richter in coverage of those scandals, or even in conversations about them, are few and far between. Sources who have worked or continue to work with him attribute that to his careful and pragmatic nature.
“He basically would wait to think about something before speaking,” one person who worked with him told Recode. “Which might be why he’s stayed under the radar.”
Until today, Richter, who joined Uber in January of 2014, was the vice president of strategic initiatives — an ambiguous title that he describes on LinkedIn as handling “business development and experiential marketing.”
He was in charge of bringing in corporate partnerships like Uber’s relationship with American Airlines and Capital One, sources say. Richter declined to be interviewed.
It’s not clear who first suggested Richter as Michael’s replacement, but sources say the company’s operational team agreed that he would be well suited for the job. Before Uber, Richter was the chief strategy officer at Say Media, an online publisher and ad network, where he also held the CFO position in an interim capacity between January and September 2012.
One source who worked with Richter at Say Media called him “deliberate,” recalling that he held his own even when he was thrown into trying to help the company determine a new strategy that made financial sense when he first started.
But he has an incredibly hard road ahead of him at Uber. The ride-hail company is not only going through a complete overhaul of its culture and governance, it’s also navigating a major self-driving lawsuit brought against it by Alphabet, and it lost more than $700 million last quarter — though that’s down from more than $900 million.
Kalanick is also still considering taking a temporary leave of absence, a decision that would force the company to find someone to replace him in the interim, and would be made more difficult by the vacancies in top positions including CMO, COO and CFO.
If Kalanick ultimately decides against taking time off — and remains in his role — Richter will likely have a hard time filling Michael’s shoes. Though sources said Kalanick and Richter have a cordial relationship, Michael was Kalanick’s closest confidant and most trusted adviser. It will be difficult to replicate that.
Even so, Michael — who first was thrust into the spotlight for suggesting digging up dirt on journalists — was a polarizing figure at the company.
Richter is generally well liked, according to several people. Multiple people referred to him as smart and thoughtful, and he was often seen as the “adult in the room,” one source said.
Not everyone at the company was a Richter fan, however. Some felt he would acquiesce too quickly to Kalanick’s whims.
Supporters of Richter suggested he knew how to play the long game.
He understood the role of the communications and policy teams in a way that other executives didn’t, several people said. It’s not clear whether Richter pushed for Michael’s role after seeing an opportunity to move up at the company.
The Yale Law School graduate is seen as showing genuine concern about others at the company, which raises the question: Why did he stay at a company that has come under fire for its questionable and sometimes illegal practices?
Richter’s initial stock will soon vest — he’s been there for close to four years — but several people said he doesn’t necessarily need the money. His wife, Jana Messerschmidt, was an early employee at Twitter, and now heads an early-stage venture fund called #Angels.
Others who know him said Richter is still at Uber at least in part because he enjoys an intellectual challenge.
“He likes solving hard problems,” one said. “Uber is a very hard problem.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.