Uber has Arianna Huffington to thank for its new SVP of leadership and strategy.
Speaking on a Monday morning panel at Advertising Week New York, the HuffPo founder revealed that she “moved heaven and Earth” to convince Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei to leave her 20-year academic career and join the ride-hailing company full-time.
Huffington said she decide to try to convince Frei to take a full-time position with Uber after a PR crisis unfolded in real-time during a meeting between the two women. “I do not remember [which crisis] because as you may have heard, we’ve had many,” Huffington joked, saying that Frei, who was at that time an outside consultant to the startup, took immediate action.
“My greatest attribute of leadership is being unflappable,” Huffington said. “She demonstrated that, coupled with practical steps we should take.”
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For her part, Frei said she decided to take the job because it’s “an opportunity to join one of the most important organizations of all time” at “what looks like an inflection point.” Besides, she added, “No one says no to Arianna.”
Frei joined Uber this past June after a number of reports surfaced about Uber’s culture, which has been described as being hostile to women. Most famously, a blog post by Susan Fowler, a former engineer at the company, revealed a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
During her tenure as HBS’s dean of faculty recruiting, Frei played a key role in a two-year experiment in which the school attempted to give itself a “gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success.”
After the experiment, which ended in 2013, “the school had become a markedly better place for female students,” reported The New York Times, citing more than 70 interviews with professors, administrators, and students. Frei was not without her critics, however. Some Harvard students felt that she and other administrators had engaged in “intrusive social engineering.”