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Embattled Uber hires high-powered recruiting firm to find a second in command

Travis Kalanick, billionaire and chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc.
Marlene Awaad | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Travis Kalanick, billionaire and chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc.

Uber is looking for a chief operating officer to work alongside embattled CEO Travis Kalanick and the ride-hailing start-up has called in the big guns — Silicon Valley recruiting powerhouse Heidrick & Struggles.

It's the same firm that placed Eric Schmidt at Google in 2001 when founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page needed "adult supervision." He stayed for a decade and now serves as Alphabet's executive chairman. Heidrick & Struggles also worked with Microsoft on its CEO search that led to Satya Nadella. Since Nadella took the reins, Microsoft shares have climbed nearly 80 percent and hit new record highs.

But finding a No. 2 at Uber may be the recruiting firm's biggest challenge yet, as the most valuable start-up in history is now engulfed in controversy.

The job it's trying to fill is no small task either: They need a seasoned executive, preferably female, to turn around an alleged culture of rampant harassment and sexism. Moreover, that person has to work alongside the guy who once called his company "Boob-er" and was caught on a dashcam recording — just a month ago — bragging about a tough corporate culture and arguing with an Uber driver.

A tall task perhaps — but one with a potentially large windfall for Heidrick & Struggles. In the past, the recruiting firm has received equity as part of payment. Heidrick & Struggles didn't immediately comment to CNBC whether equity was part of its deal with Uber.

In 2004, payment for placing Schmidt with Google included warrants that allowed it to buy 1.19 million Google shares for 30 cents each (disclosed in a filing with the SEC). The firm said it earned nearly $130 million when it exercised those warrants after Google's IPO.

While most in the investment community agree that Uber isn't looking to go public anytime soon, the company's latest round put the start-up's valuation at nearly $70 billion.

Watch: Uber's secret tool