Uber chief legal officer Salle Yoo to leave as company continues search for new general counsel

Salle Yoo, chief legal officer and first general counsel to Uber Technologies, is making plans to leave the company.

Legal Week’s sister title, Corporate Counsel, obtained an email sent by Yoo to her legal team confirming earlier reports that she is stepping away from the San Francisco-based ride-hailing giant.

“After 1,892 days (!) here, the idea of having dinner without my phone on the table, or a day that stays unplugged certainly sounded appealing,” wrote Yoo, explaining that she began thinking about leaving Uber last spring. “And of course like all builders, the idea of building something new from the ground up sounds exciting.”

Tech news website The Information originally reported on Yoo’s departure, citing two sources briefed on the matter, who said Yoo recently negotiated the terms for her exit, including her pay package.

An Uber spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of Yoo’s pay.

The news of Yoo’s exit from the company comes exactly one week after former Expedia executive Dara Khosrowshahi took over as CEO of Uber.

The announcement also comes days after The Wall Street Journal reported there was a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into Uber’s ‘Hell’ program, which the company allegedly used to spy on competitor Lyft. The FBI probe is one of several federal investigations into the company.

Yoo’s departure is not immediate. Instead, she will stay with the company until a replacement general counsel is found. “My plan is to continue on until Dara and I have found an amazing general counsel to lead this team,” Yoo wrote in her email. “In the meantime, I will continue full speed ahead as your chief legal officer and general counsel.”

Yoo’s planned departure follows an exodus of executive brass in 2017, which has included the vice-presidents, senior vice-presidents and heads of human resources, finance, self-driving, product and growth, communications, engineering and business. In June, the company’s board of directors ousted former CEO Travis Kalanick, known for his bullish and aggressive personality. The Uber co-founder had driven growth since the company’s inception.

The company is currently missing a chief diversity officer, chief finance officer, chief marketing officer, chief operating officer and senior vice-president of engineering. On 27 August, Uber announced Khosrowshahi as its new CEO and his first day was 5 September.

Yoo joined Uber in mid-2012 as employee number 102 and lawyer number one, through a search by legal recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa. Also on the GC shortlist at the time were former Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom of counsel James Brelsford and former Airbnb deputy general counsel Darren Weingard. Brelsford said earlier that, when asked by recruiter Bob Major if he was interested in the job, he “misread” the business and assumed the role would include mundane transportation committee meetings in every state.

In her five years, Yoo added roughly 230 lawyers to the legal department, helping Uber expand operations to more than 630 cities worldwide. She dealt with a litany of US litigation such as claims that her company misclassified its drivers as independent contractors, rather than employees. The same issue has dogged many Silicon Valley ‘gig economy’ companies in recent years. Yoo also helped steer the company through a 2014 data breach and cooperated with two, parallel investigations into Uber’s corporate culture and specific allegations about sexual harassment and discrimination.

Outside counsel and direct reports to Yoo rarely speak to members of the media about Yoo’s leadership, citing Uber’s strict rules prohibiting service providers and internal employees from speaking to the press without explicit company approval. However, in 2015, The Recorder spoke to select attorneys who know Yoo, with many praising her ability to grow Uber’s legal department from zero employees to 70 in just three years.

Davis Wright & Tremaine partner Stephen Greenwald, who leads the energy practice that Yoo was a member of while at the same firm, said Uber found the perfect hire in Yoo.

Stephanie Forshee contributed to this report.