Opinion: David Drummond For Uber CEO

Kwame Som-Pimpong
Written by Kwame Som-Pimpong

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned recently as CEO after Uber investors and board members made a set of demands including his resignation.

Now that Kalanick is gone, everyone is wondering who will become CEO. Media publications have floated a host of names. Frankly, none of them have really made sense.

David Drummond’s name is not one that has come up, but I think is one that should be strongly considered.

Uber needs to professionalize. Eric Holder said Uber needed to improve the company’s culture. Until now, Uber has been run like a startup, even with 12,000 employees. Drummond has played a key role in the professionalization of Alphabet. His signature is on Google’s incorporation papers. He was there at the very beginning of Google. He also played a role in bringing Eric Schmidt as adult supervision for Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He was there as Larry Page prepared to eventually become CEO. He was also there as Google became Alphabet.

His leadership has spanned the entire company. He oversaw the company’s legal affairs, M&A activity, business development, and he plays an integral role in the company’s board activity. If anyone can lead the professionalization of Uber, David can.

From LinkedIn. Story by Kwame Som-Pimpong, manager of the Africa Business Fellowship, a partnership that sends talented American business leaders to get business experience in African markets. He is also editor of Black People Things, a weekly newsletter that surfaces business news by and/or about black people.

The Case For David Drummond

  • Uber needs someone who understands its business. Drummond joined Uber’s board in 2013 after Google Ventures invested $260 million in the company. He left the board a few years ago when the conflict between Google and Uber over their respective work on self-driving cars. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, that conflict has gotten pretty heated. Anyway, Drummond understands a good bit of Uber’s business, which will probably provide significant context for him to use in moving the company forward.
  • Uber needs someone who has a grasp of finding the future. Drummond oversees corporate development for Alphabet, which has included overseeing acquisitions of companies working on machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, life sciences, and more. Uber is working towards being a logistics company. Acquisitions are going to play a huge role in that and David Drummond has decades of experience with that — YouTube, ITA Software (Google Flights), Waze, DoubleClick, AdMob, and the list goes on. These acquisitions have played a key role in building the behemoth that is Google.
  • Uber needs someone who knows how to deal with regulators on a global scale. The implications of what happens to Uber have wide-ranging impact. Over the past several years, Uber has pushed its way into markets around the world, despite protests from politicians and regulators. At a perceived moment of weakness, we can expect the company to face increased pressure from regulators to operate well behind the line of what is legal. Drummond has years of experience waging regulatory battles around the world. He has been dealing with antitrust cases in Europe for years now. Uber will need that experience.

The Counter

There are a number of issues that make it pretty unlikely for Drummond to become CEO of Uber.

  • The timing would create significant conflicts. Uber and Alphabet are locked in a lawsuit that could take a while to play out. For Drummond to jump to the other team in the lawsuit would create a lot of conflicts, not to mention that move would most likely damage a number of bridges. Drummond has been with Alphabet since practically the very beginning. He’s clearly loyal and I don’t know that a move like this would be worth those relationships.
  • At the same time, Drummond has been at Google nearly 20 years and has had essentially the same title over the time, though his job has changed a good bit. I’m sure he’s been approached about CEO opportunities at other companies. His playing such an important role at Alphabet creates a high bar for an opportunity to run another company to be attractive. The opportunity to run a company like Uber is not the kind that comes around often.
  • Alphabet is due to make him a good bit more wealthy. Drummond has roughly $70 million in stock options that won’t vest until April 2018. Uber would need to put together a very nice package for him to leave that kind of money behind, though it could probably make that happen.
  • Travis Kalanick is still on Uber’s board. I expect Kalanick to make a move to take back the CEO role at Uber in a few years. I could totally see him blocking a Google employee becoming CEO of Uber. If I’m Drummond, I see dealing with Kalanick on the board as a big headache.

Still think he should be CEO?

Absolutely. Drummond has played an integral role in changing the world through his stewardship of Alphabet. Alphabet has some pretty big bets still out there, but who knows how effective they will be. Watch how he talks about Calico, Alphabet’s attempt to address aging (make people immortal), and I hear someone who’s not a true believer in this moonshot. At Uber, he has an incredible challenge in fixing Uber and shaping how people and things move in the future. That’s an opportunity worth taking.

Kwame Som-Pimpong is manager of the Africa Business Fellowship, a partnership that sends talented American business leaders to get business experience in African markets. He is also editor of Black People Things, a weekly newsletter that surfaces business news by and/or about black people.

This article was published with permission of the author.

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About Kwame Som-Pimpong
Kwame Som-Pimpong is manager of the Africa Business Fellowship, a partnership that sends talented American business leaders to get business experience in African markets. He is also editor of Black People Things, a weekly newsletter that surfaces business news by and/or about black people.

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