Uber's EMEA PR/Lobbyist Spills His Guts
Let's try to figure out how he got that job.
The Guardian published a package today called “The Uber Files,” documenting some of the more callous maneuvers the company took under founder Kalanick’s watch. Kill switches on PCs in case of police raids. Suggesting Uber drivers get violent during anti-Uber protests. Clear acknowledgement of the illegality of its business model in many markets. You know, Uber stuff.
This afternoon, the whistleblower who provided The Guardian some 124,000 files (dated from 2013 to 2017) was also willingly unmasked: Mark MacGann, former EMEA lobbyist and PR fixer for Uber is also profiled by The Guardian, positioning himself as a rueful participant in Uber’s ubermess.
I’ll start by saying this: I have no idea how in the hell careers like this are crafted. It may be that I am addled from inhaling too much Abatron LiquidWood® Structural Epoxy Wood Hardener and Consolidant for Deteriorated Wood yesterday—not a joke in the least; I have felt seriously ill since working on an old deck yesterday; I recommend the product—but also because I am finding myself of the familiar mode of trying to understand exactly what this person actually does in his career short of texting heads of state and going to Davos. I’m not angry, just curious, and I don’t want to imply with some knowing tone that I understand more than the outline of power dynamics as a career at all.
I would like to know. Consider this me asking. Email me and explain how this world works!
Some, uh, moments:
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, [MacGann] said he was partly motivated by remorse.
“I regret being part of a group of people which massaged the facts to earn the trust of drivers, of consumers and of political elites,” he said. “I should have shown more common sense and pushed harder to stop the craziness. It is my duty to [now] speak up and help governments and parliamentarians right some fundamental wrongs. Morally, I had no choice in the matter.”
As statements go, this isn’t bad. But why now? For someone who traffics in relationships, backroom deals, brokering of powering and such, what does a data dump do for him five years later? Is he feeling guilt, burning Kalanick and company for revenge, or a little of both?
2022 Uber’s “Whoa hey that was the Bad Uber” response to The Guardian’s request for comment is pretty tight, a forcefully moral deflection: “We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values.” 🤌
A Brussels insider, MacGann was an obvious pick to lead Uber’s government relations in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region in 2014. Born in Ireland, he speaks several languages and possessed an impressive contacts book built up over two decades in lobbying and public affairs.
MacGann had worked at established public policy firms such as Weber Shandwick and Brunswick, and had run DigitalEurope, a trade association that advocated for companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Sony. His most recent job had been as senior vice-president at the New York Stock Exchange on a salary of $750,000 a year.
MacGann took a significant salary cut to work at Uber for €160,000.
Putting aside that I don’t tend to think of Weber Shandwick and Brunswick as public policy firms, per se, it looks like MacGann’s path (minus a timeline) is to start at agencies, then take a role as a trade association flack.
But wait actually, according to his LinkedIn, MacGann went to Weber after his time as “Director General”1 of DigitalEurope. Seems he was a glad-hander, a lobbyist for tech in EMEA. The forays into Public Affairs work for PR agencies were interludes between leading trade groups and in-house roles.
According to MacGann’s LinkedIn, his NYSE role was “Senior Vice President, Head of Government Affairs and Public Advocacy” as part of Euronext, a securities exchange that was folded into the rest of NYSE in 2013. Three-quarters of a mil a year to…know people, I guess. I get it? This guy was texting with Macron while he was at Uber. It would be silly of me to imply that’s not valuable.
In one exchange, MacGann asks for Macron’s help in the midst of a raid on the company’s offices. In another he complains about an apparent ban on its services in Marseille.
Macron told MacGann he would “personally” look into the matter. “At this point, let’s stay calm,” the minister said.
An aside: I love it when your executive texts you to share a flex for no clear reason except to let you know he flexed:
“Uber was considered hot property.” So much so that when Kalanick met Joe Biden at the Swiss resort it was at the US vice-president’s request.
The Uber files reveal that Kalanick fumed when he was kept waiting by Biden, texting other Uber executives: “I’ve had my people let him know that every minute late he is, is one less minute he will have with me.”
Hey, just letting you know that I had my other people (not you) tell Joe Biden’s people that I’m really important.
Eventually the EU taxi protestors figured out who MacGann was and started threatening to kick his ass:
In August that year, a security report commissioned by Uber mentioned rumours that MacGann and another Uber executive were going to be “taken off the streets by a core group of taxi drivers”.
Uber gave MacGann a personal team of bodyguards. An email states that between September and November 2015, the security team spent 619 hours shepherding him in Belgium alone, while Uber also beefed up security for foreign trips.
MacGann quit Uber after 20 months, according to his LinkedIn, although stayed on as an advisor and praised Kalanick and Uber in public. But he was still being watched by taxi drivers:
As he walked towards his waiting Uber, taxi drivers approached him and ordered him not to get into the car. One grabbed him by the arms to stop him from putting his bags in. Concerned for his safety, MacGann asked the Uber driver to lock the doors when he was in the car.
Several more taxi drivers joined the fray, surrounding the car. MacGann called the police. A security report commissioned by Uber questioned whether the taxi drivers had recognised him. But he recalls the drivers yelling: “MacGann, we will get you, we know where you live.”
MacGann began separating himself professionally and mentally from Uber soon after. Started a VC firm. (In 2016.) Went to therapy. Linked a cache of documents to The Guardian. Served on some boards.
It’s not entirely clear if his VC firm, “Moonshot Ventures,” for which MacGann lists himself as the founder (again on LinkedIn), actually has ventured anything. There’s another “Moonshot Ventures” that was formed in Ireland in 2021 that seems unrelated. An Irish “online threat company”—they’re against, I think—was formed in 2015 but seems unrelated. Probably just a holding company?
MacGann’s remorse seems sincere to me. And it could just be that he’s wealthy or bored enough at this point in his career—he’s 52—to realize that the trove of texts and emails he has been sitting on won’t be interesting forever. Maybe his advisory role with D.C. law firm Covington & Burling tilted him back towards a sense of moral responsibility.
Maybe he just reached the point in his life where Being The Guy Who Knows The Guys ran out of steam and his reputation as a tech industry evangelist in EMEA was sullied by his time at Uber, and he’s trying to wash his hands.
I am available for any Director Generalships you may think I am qualified for.