Uber Trades Out CHROs, aka Life In The Fast Lane

If there’s one thing that’s true in HR, it’s that today’s HR leader right for a company may not be right for the same company 3 years from now.  Things change. New leaders come in, new strategies are developed and deployed.

And if you’re really lucky, your company experiences exponential growth that causes you to need a different type of HR leader.

Uber fits that example, and they just had a trade out – an early CHRO has left, and a new one – dramatically different – has entered.  Here’s the rundown of the changeout I ran across on the web:

Uber is bringing in Liane Hornsey, a longtime VP at Google and current operating partner at SoftBank, to be its new Chief HR Officer.

The move gives Uber a seasoned executive with public company experience to help manage the $66 billion ride-hailing service’s rapidly swelling ranks and to guide it through the various challenges facing startups as they evolve into giant businesses.

Travis Kalanick announced the hiring in an email to Uber employees on Friday, calling her “one of the most sought-after ‘people people’ in the world,” according to a source inside the ride-hailing company.

Uber confirmed Hornsey’s hire to Business Insider, but declined further comment. SoftBank and Hornsey didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The opening at Uber, one of the fastest-growing companies in tech, became available in July when its former head of HR Renee Atwood left to join Twitter. Atwood had been at the company from when it was 605 employees to more than 5,000. 

Hornsey’s LinkedIn shows she had spent nine years at Google as its Vice President of Global People Operations before she moved to being a VP on the sales side, reporting to Nikesh Arora. 

She followed Arora to SoftBank International in September 2015 to be its Chief Administrative Officer and operating partner, helping other startups with their HR needs. Arora left his position in June 2016, and now Hornsey’s departure follows nearly six months after. Hornsey will start at Uber in January.

Couple of things come to mind here from an HR leadership perspective:

  1. If you go look at the profile of Renee Atwood (former CHRO at Uber, now at Twitter), you’ll see a pretty good background.  Now go look at the background of Liane Hornsey.  They’re different.  Neither one is right or wrong – they are just different. One’s growth and the other one is more mature from a career perspective, focused on things that a 5,000 person company focuses on.
  2. Atwood joined Uber when it had 500 employees and left at the time it had grown to 5,000 (both FTE numbers do not count driving contractors).  Anyone in HR would tell you that those are two dramatically different companies as evidenced by the size and the fact that it’s Uber only adds an exponential factor to that difference.
  3. Uber’s a unicorn and increased market cap from $13B to $70B during Atwood’s tenure.  Atwood chose to leave for a cool company in Twitter, albeit one that doesn’t have a clear path moving forward.

I think Atwood’s background is very strong.  Former client group leader at Citi and Google, got a great opportunity at Uber – I really like that progression.

But Uber’s issues today are dramatically different today than they were in 2014.  The fact they changed out the CHRO – a seemingly voluntary move by Atwood – is evidence pointing to the fact that the HR pro you have today may not be right for you tomorrow.

If you’re a CEO out there, looking at your HR leader (and determining whether you still have a fit as you grow) should be as important as looking at your CFO fit for the stage your company is in.

And hey Travis, calling an HR Leader one of the best “people people”… Well, you’re better than that.

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.

6 Comments

  1. Jason says:

    Before you suggest better language for the CEO of Uber to use to describe a person, you should probably double-check your spelling and fix grammatical errors in your articles. You’re better than that.

    Reply
    • Kris Dunn
      Kris Dunn says:

      Hey Jason –

      Ah, yes… The fix your spelling and grammer comment. So, this blog is designed to get thoughts up and we also try related to the items you mentioned. But we never delay publishing by making sure something’s perfect. So the comment about “people people” has to stand, and we’ll review the post and try to update. But my experience with grammar is that it is specific to the preferences of the person.

      And I misspelled grammar in the first line to make your blood pressure rise. Thanks for reading.

      KD

      Reply
  2. Kris,
    Great read!
    It’s often said in the startup / VC world that the “Founding CEO” and the “IPO CEO” are usually not the same person – that in reality, they may have little in common with each other…
    I wonder if the same can be said for HR leaders. Are the passions, skills, and motivators going to be the same for the HR leader who brings the company from 5 to 500, from 500 to 5000, or to 50,000? Would a “fly by the seat of their pants” HR entrepreneur who wears many hats even be happy in a more formal corporate environment?
    I don’t know the answers to these questions – but as I’ve seen with CEOs, often times one love to create, initiate, build and grow, with few rules, limitations or beaten paths, the other loves taking something with potential for growth and morphing it into something well established and widely viewed as successful.
    Would love your thoughts…

    Reply
    • Kris Dunn
      Kris Dunn says:

      Hi David –

      yes – I think you are right – the right CEO for a company of a certain size and maturity is similar to HR. The bigger problem is that folks are probably late to change HR leaders out because too many underestimate the impact the right HR pro can have.

      That being said, Uber has to be a crazy place to be these days. I’m assuming with the experience she gained, Atwood could do about any job she wants to…

      KD

      Reply
  3. If you think about a CHRO’s role in terms of the work they need to do, that helps in looking at who you should hire. Renee Atwood was great a scaling the company, which was a fabulous feat. Liane Hornsey, I am guessing, is better at global processes and infrastructure. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is hard to find someone great at both, or interested in both.

    Reply

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