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Uber CEO Search: Sandberg? No. Wojcicki? No. Mulally? No. Staggs? No. Arianna? No. (And Mayer? No way.)

Uber wants a global CEO — like easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall

  • Recode sources shot down many candidates floated in the media for Uber's new CEO role, including Marissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington, Tom Staggs, Alan Mulally and Susan Wojcicki
Sheryl Sandberg speaks about overcoming grief and resilience at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.
Sheryl Sandberg speaks about overcoming grief and resilience at a Commonwealth Club event in San Francisco.

I know it's fun to speculate on the various CEO candidates who might take over at Uber. And that's what many in the media have been doing since its leader Travis Kalanick was jettisoned in a shareholder pique last month, often quite breathlessly.

And more often inaccurately. So I checked, since someone had to.

Will it be Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who has been ascribed over the years corporate superpowers, enabling her to lift toxic cultures in a single bound? Lean in, Sheryl!

No, it will not be Sandberg, who sources said is quite happy with her current position and has much better options anyway across the corporate and political spectrum. She's also already very rich and has, said these sources, no interest in wading into the mess that is Uber.

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And what about Sandberg's former colleague at Google, Susan Wojcicki, who know runs its YouTube unit and is another tech star about whom pretty much no one in Silicon Valley can say a bad thing? (Me either — Susan is pretty fantastic and quite humble too, which makes her an anomaly around these egomaniac parts.)

Nope! Also happy and loving the media job she has at the online video behemoth, said sources inside and outside Uber. Also very rich. Also, said sources, Wojcicki is not keen on playing cleanup for a lot of naughty tech boys, even if she is great at that and a lot of other things.

Or what of deeply experienced dudes like former Disney COO Tom Staggs or former Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who would bring much needed discipline and rigor to the hair-on-fire car hailing company? I have interviewed both many times and they are very qualified and pretty chill, so sounds good to me!

Nay. Sources said Staggs does not want to move, nor wade into the muck. And Mulally told me flatly on the record that he has no interest and is very happy with his board seats at place like Google and the Mayo Clinic.

So why not also throw out the name of board member Arianna Huffington for good measure, because wouldn't that be one entertaining Uber ride of all of us? The celebrity factor! The fantastic accent! The exquisite possibility of napping pods at HQ!

Sorry! Also on the record from Monica Lee, comms head at Thrive Global, Huffington's company: "Arianna has zero interest in the CEO role and in fact as the chair of the board search committee is fully engaged in finding the best CEO for Uber."

And then there is Marissa Mayer, the also former Googler who just left — and I am being kind here — her job as CEO of Yahoo. Plus, she just did Kalanick a solid by publicly letting him off the very deserved hook he has hoisted his own petard on for presiding over a company riven with sexism and mismanagement.

This one is just utterly and profoundly untrue, said multiple sources close to the situation, a notion being floated by, well, who knows. But I know why: Mayer has zero background in the complex real-world logistics that running Uber would require and also has a leadership record at Yahoo that is questionable at best. (I am being kind here, again!)

And there so many more, such as former Twitter COO Adam Bain.

Great guy, and several sources said he has spoken to Uber board members involved in the search. But he's unlikely to bite on that job even if it were offered. Plus, the well-liked Bain also has many other options (he has talked about a high-ranking job at Airbnb and has had a lot of investment firm interest too).

And former Googler Nikesh Arora? The business exec has not held talks with Uber on this and will not be asked to, said sources.

As for David Cush, former Virgin America CEO: He was considered for the COO job when Kalanick was still there, but it's not clear if that meant he could also take over the whole shebang.

Another intriguing airline exec mentioned is the CEO of discount flyer easyJet, Carolyn McCall. (If I were betting, I would bet on her if Uber could get her.) But the former Guardian Media Group head is also the favorite to take over Britain's ITV television behemoth.

So who is interested in being Uber CEO, with the job of leading 15,000 employees? A lot of people, with lots of applications sent in, even if most of them are not up to the kind of challenge the task presents. In addition, there are the very pertinent worries about the continued influence of Kalanick, who still is on its board and is a significant shareholder. Many sources say he did not play nice in the COO search and was even obstructive.

"The Travis factor hangs over everything," said one source, which make the pugnacious CEO seem like a troublesome black cloud or capricious guillotine. Accurate and he might want the job back when he redeems himself too.

In the McCall mode, I am told that the company is targeting a global CEO type, which could be many execs from Europe (Mercedes might be a good place to start looking for candidates). This is key considering Uber's many efforts internationally that remain challenging.

Uber is also scouring the scene for women execs, especially those who understand complex transportation or distribution systems. And it is less likely the winner will be a tech exec, said many sources, but one with a more varied corporate background.

Think transportation. Think consumer goods. Think retail.

Most of all, sources close to the situation said it wants a no-drama CEO who is capable of attracting capital (Uber needs to fundraise again soon); will be able to take the company public (look to 2019); and also will be able to attract new talent for the many open top jobs at Uber.

In fact, the lack of key management at Uber is astonishing given all the incoming it faces on a daily basis against ever-powerful rivals and with all its current travails (the Alphabet lawsuit; numerous regulatory probes; internal systems failures).

"We don't have time to make a mistake, and we have very little time," said one person close to the situation. "It's both a great opportunity and an awful task for whoever gets it."

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