Arianna Huffington was supposed to be Uber’s high-powered savior. When former Uber employee Susan Fowler came forward with an explosive piece last February detailing the ingrained culture of sexism at the company, Uber recruited Huffington, its only female board member, to help tackle the problem.
Huffington told reporters that “going forward there can be no room at Uber for brilliant jerks.” She started appearing at the company’s all-hands meetings, and oversaw former Attorney General Eric Holder’s investigation into Uber’s sexual harassment.
As many have pointed out, Huffington was a strange choice given her history of ignoring and covering up sexual harassment at the Huffington Post. (Huffington also killed stories critical of Uber while she was still editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post.)
But Huffington was also focused on something else at Uber: her brand and her money. Here’s a small detail you might have missed from Bloomberg Businessweek’s deep dive published today detailing the fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (emphasis mine):
Even in top-level conversations where Kalanick appeared to be absent, other executives and board members suspected that Huffington was serving as his proxy. The founder of the Huffington Post was a constant presence at Uber’s offices, making suggestions that seemed to promote her new wellness company, Thrive Global Holdings LLC. For example, she wanted to put “nap pods” at driver hubs and give drivers meditation wristbands. Huffington’s company received $50,000 in consulting fees from Uber. The perceived self-dealing didn’t go over well internally, and she had the money returned, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for Huffington says that Thrive provided services at cost, and that Huffington refunded the fees when events required her to take on a more active role at Uber.
That’s right—Huffington, who once said that sexual harassment was “not a systemic problem” at Uber, spent much of her time there hawking products from her own wellness company. (Fun fact, Thrive Global’s nap pods will only run you a cool $14,325.)
After the Holder investigation wrapped up in June, Huffington told CNN that “Thrive Global is always my top priority.” This has certainly proven to be true.