HuffPo founder to bring 'emotional intelligence' to battle-weary Uber

Arianna Huffington has joined the board of directors for the lawsuit-embattled Uber. Can her story-telling ability redirect the rideshare's negative narrative?

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/File
Arianna Huffington at the 2013 Vanity Fair Oscars Viewing and After Party in West Hollywood, Calif. Ms. Huffington has been appointed to Uber's board of directors for her 'emotional intelligence.'

Uber Technologies Inc., the company behind the popular rideshare program, announced Wednesday that Arianna Huffington would be joining their board of directors. In a blog post on their website, co-founder and chief executive officer Travis Kalanick made public the decision, lauding The Huffington Post co-founder for having "built one of the most successful, innovative media companies in the world" as well as for being a best-selling author. 

Ms. Huffington's appointment comes as Uber continues to be a company plagued by controversy from within and without. In 2015 alone, 50 lawsuits were filed against Uber in US federal courts. Launched in May 2010, Uber expanded rapidly to 400 cities worldwide, creating issues and conflicts everywhere it went. Huffington's appointment to the board of directors appears to signify a change in Uber's approach even as court battles show no signs of letting up.

Mr. Kalanick is hoping that Huffington can bring a little more heart to the data-driven company. She "embodies the type of optimistic leadership we need as Uber continues to grow," Kalanick writes.

It's a shift that could redirect attention away from the negative headlines about Uber's practices that seem to appear weekly.

A recent lawsuit filed by Uber drivers from Ann Arbor, Mich., challenges Uber's treatment of wages and benefits for drivers, claiming the company pockets drivers' gratuities, forces out-of-pocket expenses, and refuses basic benefits.

Earlier this April a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against Kalanick over conspiracy to induce wage-hikes on high-volume holidays.

Across the United States taxi drivers consistently file complaints that their income is severely damaged by Uber's introduction into their marketplace. For example, in November 2015, St. Louis taxi drivers filed suit against Uber, claiming their business has decreased by up to 40 percent since the service was introduced.

Globally, Uber has seen direct challenges to its service from London to New Delhi, from Germany to China and Sao Paolo. 

In January riot police were called in Paris to quell a violent movement by the taxi drivers' union, protesting Uber's presence in the French capital – bringing about a suspension of the inexpensive rideshare service known as UberPOP. Similar riots broke out in Jakarta, Indonesia, and drivers were attacked and assaulted outside Mexico City as licensed taxi drivers demonstrated against the San Francisco-based start-up. 

The company opened in Argentina in April and the service has faced constant problems and opposition during its first few weeks.

Kalanick is hoping the change this relentlessly negative narrative with Huffington's help.

In his blog post, Kalanick emphasizes how Huffington's story-telling ability can benefit the company, especially in contrast to his own engineering-style background where data and results drive decisions. "As I've discovered," he said, "that doesn't always work perfectly."

Huffington hopes to promote a different side of the company's story by emphasizing its humanity and problem-solving efforts. 

"I would love to tell all the stories around what is happening in cities beyond transportation. Do some cities want to give free rides to cancer patients? Do they want to work with the Red Cross? There are so many possibilities," Huffington said in an interview with CNNMoney.

"[Chief executive officer Travis Kalanick] and I have also pledged to combat 'drowsy driving.' Uber has been instrumental in bringing drunk driving rates down, and we want to do the same for drowsy driving," she said.

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