By Victor Ochieng
Tony West, former Justice Department official, who also served as PepsiCo Inc.'s general counsel, has a new job. The struggling ride-sharing company Uber has hired him to serve as their chief legal officer, coming in at a time when the company is facing federal investigations and multiple lawsuits.
In 2014, West picked up a role at PepsiCo as the company's Government Affairs General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. During his tenure at the food and beverages company, West focused on improving diversity and work ethics. Moreover, it was also during the same span that Black Enterprise ranked the company among the best in diversity.
West's service at PepsiCo came after his appointment as the assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, which, as we speak, is actually investigating Uber's questionable dealings.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said “Tony is exactly what Uber needs now” that the company is facing numerous lawsuits and investigations relating to s*xism, bribery in foreign lands, and alleged use of software to skip federal regulations. The ride company is also facing a lawsuit filed by Alphabet.
“As a former federal prosecutor and senior Department of Justice official in the Obama administration, he’s well-equipped to handle the investigations into our past practices,” Khosrowshahi said in a Friday statement. “And at Pepsi, he has emphasized diversity on his team and across the company. But perhaps most importantly, Pepsi has been named one of the world’s most ethical companies 10 years in a row. Under Tony’s leadership, I’m confident that we will one day join this list.”
Barely two weeks ago, a lawsuit was filed against Uber by some three Latino software experts who alleged that they'd been forced to endure low pay and bad treatment because of their gender and race. This past September, the company was literally banned in London over public safety and security concerns.
But even as the company faces numerous hurdles, the introduction of West into the business is believed to be a good move if his experience and expertise is anything to go by. Black Enterprise SVP/Chief Content Officer Derek T. Dingle believes Uber's hiring of West is a smart move.
“Not only are they gaining a professional with vast corporate experience and a diversity champion having worked as general counsel and serving as an executive officer for PepsiCo, one of the nation’s largest companies, but they also get talent with an intimate understanding of how federal investigations work,” says Dingle. “His legal expertise and strategic approach will be invaluable in handling the DOJ’s investigation into the company’s business practices. West’s appointment will go a long way to help Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reach his stated goal of positioning Uber to one day be considered among ethical corporate leaders. However, achieving that objective will take some time.”
West noted in an interview with The Washington Post that Uber is facing rough times ahead, but also submitted that he's equal to the task. “I’m not the first to recognize that the company over-indexed on growth without putting in the appropriate guardrails,” he said. “Fostering a culture of compliance is going to be one of my top priorities.”
How that plays out is yet to be seen.