I’m excited to announce that I’m joining Uber as SVP of Engineering. After 15 wonderful years at Google working on search, I wasn’t sure that I would find an opportunity as exciting or potentially world-changing. But having spent hours with Travis and many others at the company, I can confidently say Uber fits the bill.
This is what Amit Singhal wrote a month back on his blog on joining Uber as SVP of Engineering in January 2017. He was to head up the Maps and Marketplace departments at Uber, while also advising CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber VP of Engineering and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski on their efforts to build out Uber’s self-driving technology.
But Singhal’s excitement was not meant to last for long. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has asked Amit to step down after it came to light that he had failed to disclose a sexual harassment allegation made against him at former employer Google during the hiring process, as per a Recode report.
The Retirement That Never Was?
As per the report, Uber executives found out about the situation after Recode informed them of what had transpired between Amit and Google, last year. Singhal, who was the Head of Search technology at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, left last February, after 15 years with the company. At the time, Google said Singhal was retiring, and so had Singhal, who had stated the following on his retirement:
“As I entered the fifteenth year of working at Google, I’ve been asking myself the question, ‘What would you want to do for the next fifteen?’ The answer has overwhelmingly been: give back to others. It has always been a priority for me to give back to people who are less fortunate, and make time for my family amidst competing work constraints–but on both fronts, I simply want to give and do more.”
However, before his leaving, it transpired that in meetings with Google’s CEO and Head of Human Resources in late 2015, he had disputed a sexual harassment complaint made by a female employee. As per Recode sources, Google was prepared to fire him over the allegations after looking into the incident, but refrained after he resigned.
Sources stated that the female employee who filed the formal complaint against Amit did not work for him directly, but worked closely with the Search team. She also did not want to go public with the charges, which is apparently why Google decided to allow Singhal to leave quietly.
Uber, meanwhile, despite doing extensive background checks had not uncovered any hints of these allegations.
In a statement to Recode, Amit has denied the allegations stating, “Harassment is unacceptable in any setting. I certainly want everyone to know that I do not condone and have not committed such behaviour. In my 20-year career, I’ve never been accused of anything like this before and the decision to leave Google was my own.”
Uber’s Cup Of Woes Overflows Yet Again
However, Uber’s CEO Travis has been quick to ask him to resign, though the company previously has been known to be not very proactive in HR matters. Much of this has been on account of the fact that Uber has been reeling under the impact of the devastating blog post of former software engineer, Susan Fowler, who revealed that she had been propositioned by her manager and that the company had protected him because he was a “high performer.” She also spoke about more women engineers in the company, who had faced similar situations.
The aftermath of these explosive revelations had immediately prompted Travis to order an urgent investigation into the matter. He had tweeted that “What’s described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in.”
1/ What's described here is abhorrent & against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired. https://t.co/6q29N7AL6E
— travis kalanick (@travisk) February 20, 2017
The Singhal episode comes within a week of the Susan Fowler episode as Uber tries to salvage its reputation against charges labelling it a sexist firm. It also roped in former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and conduct an independent review. Additionally, Uber Board Member Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post, has also been roped in to assist in the investigation alongside Liane Hornsey, the company’s newly hired Chief Human Resources officer, and Angela Padilla, General Counsel.
Just talked w/ Travis & as a representative of Uber's Board I will work w/Liane to conduct a full independent investigation starting now 1/2
— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) February 20, 2017
While Amit Singhal still has to respond to Inc42 for the story, the episode could possibly be the explanation of why Amit’s retirement from Google was so short-lived.
He joined Uber within a year of leaving Google despite him stating at the time of his retirement that after 15 years at Google, he simply wanted to do more good and make an important life change. His appointment to Uber was hardly the life change he intended to make. In the light of Recode’s revelations, is it possible that the retirement angle was probably a move to normalise his departure from Google?
It is to be noted that additionally, last October, he had also joined Paytm’s Board of Directors. Besides, he also sits on the board of fitness wearable company GOQii and has recently invested in another Indian startup – Sigtuple.
Uber has always hired for performance, especially in light of increasing competition. Incidentally, it hired Amit amidst a deepening rivalry with Google’s parent company over self-driving cars, mapping data, and ride-hailing software. It recruited Brian McClendon from Google in 2015 to work on maps. Last year it also acquired Otto, an autonomous trucking startup founded by former Google employees.
Currently, Google and Uber are engaged in another tussle as recently as last week, with Alphabet’s Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving car unit) suing Otto, claiming a former employee stole secret designs and technology to start Otto. In response, Uber called the allegations “baseless.”
An official response from Uber is still awaited.