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Uber’s head of HR leaves huge potential payday to join... Twitter

Nine months after she said she was "f-ing terrified" and that bad press “did [her] no favors.”

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 14, 2016

From The Travis Shrugged Desk

Renee Atwood is either the least self interested person in Silicon Valley or she knows something about Uber the rest of us don’t.

Until Wednesday, Atwood was the head of HR for Uber, a job she'd taken after four years at Google. Hers should have been the easiest job in SIlicon Valley: Head of HR for the highest valued, more anticipated IPO candidate we’ve seen since Facebook. The unicorn-iest unicorn in an era of more than 150 unicorns.

She joined Uber in 2014-- when the company’s valuation was a “mere” $13 billion, compared to near $70 billion today. Smart bet. When she joined Uber had just 600 employees-- what Google had in year five. Today it has more than 5,000. By all metrics she seems to have done an amazing job in a period of insane hyper growth.

So let’s recap:

  • After years at Google Atwood jumps to the next hottest thing: Check!
  • In just two years the value of the company she joined has jumped from $13 billion to close to $70 billion indicating a massive, massive payday coming for her: Check!
  • She’s the gatekeeper between every young aggressive candidate who wants to be part of the hottest company in all startups and her only job is to vet the right ones: Check!

That story sounds like a senior manager’s Silicon Valley dream.

And then what happened Wednesday? Atwood announced she was leaving Uber…. For Twittter.

Twitter!

Not Airbnb. Not even a troubled decacorn like Dropbox or Pinterest. Not even a still surging goliath like Facebook.

Twitter. The company that can’t seem to keep a head of product. The place “with no plan B.” Atwood left what should be the easiest job in HR in Silicon Valley for what should be one of the hardest. It’s like leaving as Facebook’s head of HR just before the IPO to go to Yahoo. Even without knowing the specifics of her contract at either place it’s safe to say Renee Atwood just turned down a major potential payday for one of the most thankless jobs in tech.

Sources close to the situation confirm that Atwood was not pushed. She was recruited away by Twitter. The sound you just heard was Uber CEO Travis Kalanick punching the wall in his famous “war room.”

Where to start with the news other than that it’s a colossally bad sign for Uber?

We’ve reported before that despite the obvious monetary opportunity of joining Uber, a lot of people at the senior and middle executives levels have been declining because the environment is so toxic.

In fact, it’s become a bit of a meme to share the rejection letter you send to Uber recruiters.

From our previous reporting, about a series of Medium posts of how people reject Uber:

What’s stunning about those two posts, and the countless other highly skilled engineers and executives who we’ve heard have rejected Uber’s attempts to hire them, is that they’re aimed at the hottest, most valuable private company in Silicon Valley.

Traditionally the hottest company -- Google, Facebook, Apple all the way back to Shockley Labs -- have had their pick of the talent. Not only would skilled employees be lining up to work there, but successful candidates be the envy of their friends and colleagues. The Techtopus wage fixing cartel collapsed the moment Facebook -- then the hottest startup in the Valley -- refused to play ball. The company was that confident of their ability to retain talent on their merits.

Uber has never been hotter. And yet, not only is it struggling to hire people, but the targets of its recruitment efforts are showing off their rejection templates on Medium and inspiring others to do the same. 

And that was before court documents proved that Uber was willing to hire oppo researchers to dig up dirt from critic’s personal lives and use it against them.

A few more hints can be found by watching an October 2015 keynote  (embedded below) that Atwood did at LinkedIn’s Talent Connect conference in Anaheim.

Atwood comes across as a woman who has well and truly gulped down the Uber kool aid. She brags about how Uber is “changing the social fabric of how Saudi Arabia operates” well before Rachel Whetstone had to come up with a justification for the company taking billions from a notoriously oppressive regime. (And give them a board seat.)

She is clear why she joined the company: “I was starting to realize the growth was like no other.” Indeed, Uber has broken a lot of all time Silicon Valley records, particularly in raising capital and pre-IPO valuation.

That said, she was clear how dicey her new job would be. “The Uber model could fail without the right people in the right places.” That was followed by her complaining that “the press did me no favors” (sorry about that!), citing right then and there the barrage of negative press on Uber as evidence of it hurting recruiting.

She divulges: “I was f-ing terrified.”

Her solution to growing the team from some 600 people to 5,000+? Letting people “empower themselves.” She gives an example of a Paris team who put together their own recruitment video and released it without running it by HR. She notes that it was a little scary, but that’s why Uber works! Letting employees take their own crazy risks! (Other crazy risks not mentioned: The French team who produced an ad likening female drivers to hookers, and the now multiple examples of senior Uber execs plotting to dig into the private lives of critics.)

Point being: Atwood apparently had no issues with Uber’s close ties with the Saudis or the unaccountable bro culture that’s yielded everything from abuse of “God view” to invoking prostitution to build market share.

So what changed? What was the line? What caused Renee Atwood to finally leave a company that appreciated some $50 billion in valuation since she joined-- no doubt with a pile of stock un-vested…..to go to Twitter. Possibly the hardest HR job in tech, shy of Yahoo.


One thing is for sure: She’s hardly a Twitter die hard. Despite her job boosting Uber to potential recruits, she’s only ever sent 55 Tweets.