As Re/code had reported in July, Uber has zeroing in on the hiring of a high-profile “campaign manager” to head its policy and communications strategy and fight what its CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick has called “an asshole named Taxi.”
In an interview with me at the Code conference in May, in fact, he was pretty clear that one of his key goals for the year was to hire a big-gun politico for the transportation logistics juggernaut.
And now it has, with the appointment of President Barack Obama’s famous campaign manager David Plouffe as its SVP of policy and strategy. He is, of course, best known as running the breakthrough 2008 presidential effort that put Obama in office. The longtime Democratic political consultant has also been a senior adviser at the White House, a stint he left early last year.
In my onstage interview with him, Kalanick said: “It’s not Pinterest where people are putting up pins. You’re changing the way cities work, and that’s fundamentally a third rail. We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.”
Thus, the company has been aggressively seeking a senior executive who has run political campaigns to battle the entrenched forces mustered by Kalanick’s dreaded taxi industry.
Really dreaded, if you listen to Kalanick’s pretty fantastic rhetoric about the situation and his jibes at his nasty opponent.
“Nobody likes him, he’s not a nice character, but he’s so woven into the political machinery and fabric that a lot of people owe him favors,” said Kalanick about the adversary such an Uber exec would be up against. “We have to bring out the truth about how dark and dangerous and evil the taxi side is.”
Calling Bob Woodward stat!
It’s no surprise then that the San Francisco-based Uber talked to a number of high-profile political operatives, including Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson and former Obama press secretary Jay Carney (who is still in the running to take over the top comms job at Apple).
In a blog post, which is below, Kalanick keeps up with the political breast-beating.
“Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that this controversy exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber,” he wrote. “Our opponent — the Big Taxi cartel — has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers.”
Even though those of us in the trenches do all the actual heavy-duty spade work to tell you that this was coming soon, the New York Times and Politico got handed extra special time with Plouffe about the new job with some tasty quotes.
“We’re on an inexorable path of progress here,” Plouffe said to the Times. “Uber is making transportation safer. It’s providing jobs; it’s cutting down on drunk and distracted driving. I think the mission is really important.”
Wait, I thought it was just a car service, but now it’s a cause? Oh, it’s on!
All kidding aside, this is a very big hire for Uber, which is now valued at over $18 billion by its massive passel of investors.
Here is Travis Kalanick’s post on the hiring of Plouffe, who also weighs in at the bottom:
Uber the Candidate
Uber’s simple mission: Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone. In pursuit of that mission over the past four years, Uber has transformed the fabric of 170 cities around the world — creating the safest way to get around cities, generating over 20,000 jobs a month, lowering DUI incidents, accidents and fatalities, and improving local economies.
City and governments around the world have started to embrace the change Uber delivers. California, London, Chicago, Seattle, Houston and DC, are just a few examples.
But our mission has become a surprisingly controversial topic. Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that this controversy exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber. Our opponent — the Big Taxi cartel — has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers.
Our roots are technology, not politics, writing code and rolling out transportation systems. The result is that not enough people here in America and around the world know our story, our mission, and the positive impact we’re having. Uber has been in a campaign but hasn’t been running one. That is changing now.
Leading that Campaign for Uber
Earlier this year, I made it a top priority for Uber to find a leader who could help cities and citizens understand the Uber mission — someone who believed in our cause, who understood how to build a meaningful brand, who knew how to scale a political campaign, and who knew how to get the support on the ground to win. 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.
So today we are pleased to announce that David Plouffe will be joining Uber as our Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy. Starting in late September, David will be managing all global policy and political activities, communications, and Uber branding efforts. I will look to him as a strategic partner on all matters as Uber grows around the world. David’s background needs little introduction. He is a proven field general and strategist who built the startup that elected a President.
I couldn’t be more excited about Uber’s new leader who will be bringing the expertise, wisdom, and strategic mindset to the next phase of the Uber movement, shepherding us well beyond the challenges of the Big Taxi cartel, and into the brave new world of software-powered transportation.
I’ve asked David to share some of his thoughts below …
A New Mission
I am thrilled to be joining Travis Kalanick and the great team at Uber. As Uber succeeds like I believe it can, it will spur the creation of hundreds of thousands of small businesses and directly create millions of jobs; deliver rapid, easy and affordable transportation alternatives to workers, parents, businesses and people out having a good time; make our roads safer, drastically cutting down on drunk and distracted driving; and give those who choose not to purchase an automobile a more viable way to live their lives day to day.
Uber has only been around a few years. In that short time, some companies can begin to lose their start up mentality and sense of urgency — and insurgency. Not Uber. This is a hungry team, with big vision and the skills to execute on that vision. The strength and character of the senior leadership team Travis has assembled is one of the major reasons I’ve decided to join them. And 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.
Uber has the chance to be a once in a decade if not a once in a generation company. Of course, that poses a threat to some, and I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change. 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.
I could not be more excited to join such a vibrant company and its people who will be at the absolute leading edge of tomorrow’s innovations and changing people’s lives and their cities for the better. It will be a privilege to jump in the foxhole with the team at this great startup and get to work.