Immediately following Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation, market observers began speculating about who could lead the embattled ride-hailing startup. Some rumored candidates include Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Ford’s Mark Fields, and GE’s Jeff Immelt.
But if you look closely, Arianna Huffington seems like a pretty good successor.
Although it might sound like a long shot (she just launched her wellness company, Thrive Global, seven months ago), it’s not quite so surprising given her growing influence at Uber. Huffington joined Uber’s board in April 2016, and the company welcomed her by publishing a blog post and a heartwarming video in which Kalanick calls her his “inspiration.”
In the last few months, Huffington’s power and influence at the tech giant has grown. Once the sexual harassment claims came out, she spoke with hundreds of women at the company, became the chair of a special committee receiving weekly updates on Eric Holder’s internal investigation, and began acting as the the public voice of the company.
As multiple Uber executives fled, Huffington became instrumental in recruiting some big names and getting the company some positive press. For instance, Huffington managed to woo Bozoma Saint John away from Apple for a newly-created chief brand officer role at Uber. “Arianna gave me all of the problems at Uber straight, no chaser,” Saint John told The New York Times. “It’s the magic of what makes her so believable.”
That quality is precisely why Huffington seems like a natural fit at Uber. She’s blunt, aggressive, and convincing—qualities that have helped her build multiple companies. She co-founded the Huffington Post in 2005 and became its editor-in-chief once it was acquired by AOL for $315 million in 2011. She recently quit to launch Thrive Global, a health and wellness startup, with backers including Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Female Founders Fund, and Greycroft Partners.
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A well-respected serial entrepreneur, Huffington continues to run her wellness company, but much of her time and attention has been engulfed by Uber’s tumult. And although she said her involvement with the company would decrease once Holder’s investigation concluded, that hasn’t exactly been the case.
In fact, Huffington has been so hands-on that some Uber executives have reportedly “grown wary of her close ties with Mr. Kalanick.” In the past, she said Kalanick should “absolutely not” leave his role at the company, but her tune changed this week. When the embattled CEO called her after investors demanded he resign, she didn’t dismiss it. Instead, she told him to consider it.
If Huffington is selected as Uber’s next chief, her close relationship with Kalanick could actually work in his favor, potentially opening the door him to make a Steve Jobs-style return down the road.