Urban

Uber Hires Ex-Obama Adviser to Oversee Policy and Strategy

by | August 20, 2014
 

By Carolyn Said

Beset by regulatory challenges, Uber has hired a heavyweight political insider as its "campaign manager."

David Plouffe, who headed President Obama's 2008 campaign and served as a senior White House adviser until last year, will be Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy, the on-demand ride company said Tuesday.

"We have a leader for the Uber campaign," CEO Travis Kalanick said in a conference call. "I like to think of David as a strategic thought partner and a brilliant general."

He expanded in a blog post. "We needed someone who understood politics but who also had the strategic horsepower to reinvent how a campaign should be run -- a campaign for a global company operating in cities from Boston and Beijing to London and Lagos," he wrote.

Plouffe wrote that he is thrilled to be joining Uber.

He echoed Kalanick's assessment of the ride company's main obstacle: "I've watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change," Plouffe wrote. "Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable. But I look forward to doing what I can right now to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation due to those who want to maintain a monopoly and play the inside game to deny opportunity to those on the outside."

Also Tuesday, Lyft, which is battling Uber for market share, said Chief Operating Officer Travis VanderZanden had left the company. He had joined San Francisco's Lyft about 18 months ago when the ride-sharing company acquired his startup Cherry.

Uber has been on the hunt for a top political insider for months.

The 4-year-old company started filling its arsenal with heavyweight politicos in May when it hired Ashwini Chhabra, formerly deputy commissioner for policy and planning at New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission, as head of policy development and community engagement.

While Uber has enjoyed blockbuster success on the financial side, with venture capitalists valuing the San Francisco startup at $17 billion, its aggressive expansion into 170 cities has infuriated both regulators and the taxi industry worldwide. State and local governments worry that insurance, driver training and vehicle inspections aren't up to snuff.

Plouffe appeared dismissive of such concerns in his statement.

"I look forward to doing what I can right now to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation due to those who want to maintain a monopoly and play the inside game to deny opportunity to those on the outside," he wrote.

Plouffe appeared to compare Uber employees' dedication to that of Obama campaign workers or White House staff. "When you walk thru Uber's HQ in San Francisco, the place is pulsating with young, brilliant and dedicated employees who believe they are part of doing something historic and meaningful and won't take no for an answer. It's a feeling I've been fortunate to experience previously and feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by that talent and energy one more time," he wrote.

Plouffe will start at Uber full time in late September and plans to move with his family to San Francisco, he said on the conference call.

(c)2014 the San Francisco Chronicle

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