Uber vice president Emil Michael is out as pressure mounts on Travis Kalanick

Marco della Cava
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Emil Michael, then senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc., stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO — One of Uber's most controversial top executives, Emil Michael, resigned Monday, part of an anticipated flurry of changes from the embattled ride-hailing company as it gets set to release recommendations from an internal investigation.

Michael was a longtime executive vice president for business and de facto second-in-command to CEO Travis Kalanick, who according to reports may be considering an extended leave of absence.

Uber confirmed Michael's departure to USA TODAY, as well as the fact that he will be replaced by David Richter, who was vice president of strategic initiatives.

Michael is among the most senior Uber officials to resign in recent months, and comes on the heels of 20 staffers fired last week after law firm Perkins Coie looked into 215 incidents of sexual harassment, bullying and other workplace transgressions brought forward by Uber employees in the past four months.

On Tuesday, Uber is expected to release the recommendations made by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose firm Covington & Burling was engaged by Uber in February after former engineer Susan Fowler wrote a damning blog post about the company's sexist, aggressive and biased culture.

The Uber board met Sunday and agreed to go forward with all of the Holder report's recommendations, according to a source close to the matter but who is not authorized to speak publicly. The same source also confirmed that Nestle executive Wan Ling Martello will join the board, which was first reported by Bloomberg.

Uber's board includes Kalanick and cofounder Garrett Camp, who retain control of the group through their outsized voting rights. Martello is Uber's third high-profile personnel move in the past week. Adviser Frances Frei, a Harvard specialist on corporate culture makeovers, will join Uber to help revamp the company's culture, and former Apple branding expert Bozoma Saint John has signed on as chief branding officer.

Having three women join the team at a senior level could be seen as a stark rebuke to the frat-like culture cultivated under Kalanick and his top lieutenants. Still, it's unclear how much of a cultural shift they'll achieve.

Arianna Huffington, the media entrepreneur appointed as an independent board member in April 2016, has been a staunch defender of Kalanick.

On a call with reporters in March, she batted away questions about whether the board should ask Kalanick to resign, and defended his absence on the call that was anchored by three women, saying he was busy interviewing for a chief operating officer.

"Women are helping with the COO search," she said. Then, referencing her colleagues she added, "It’s not like we got these people from central casting. Rachel (Holt) runs U.S. and Canadian operations, Liane (Hornsey) is our head of HR. It’s a really good sign of how women are valued at highest levels at Uber."

Hornsey offered unqualified support for boss in a May interview with USA TODAY. She said she suffers "cognitive dissonance every day, because I read that I’m working for this highly aggressive, highly confrontational guy and I don’t find that at all.”

Kalanick's close adviser Michael, an Egyptian-born, Harvard University-educated executive who joined Uber after stints at Klout and Tellme Networks, touted his accomplishments in helping grow Uber's valuation to nearly $70 billion over his four-year tenure.

Gabi Holzwarth (L) and CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick attend an event at The Met Gala Exhibition on May 2, 2015 in NYC. Holzwarth told tech news site The Information that Uber exec Emil Michael had tried to make her recast a story of Uber execs' outing to a Korean hostess bar.

"We have fueled our growth by raising more money than any other tech company in history; we completed one of the most valuable mergers in American/Chinese tech history with the Didi deal; and we have secured ground-breaking partnerships with automobile companies all over the world to support our autonomous vehicle efforts," Michel wrote in an email published Monday by The New York Times.

But Michael's presence was also central in a number of less-than-flattering moments in Uber's rapid and messy rise.

At an off-the-record dinner in 2014, Michael was quoted in a Buzzfeed News article as saying that Uber should create a fund to be used exclusively for investigating journalists who were being critical of the company.

At the time, Uber had criticized PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy, who had written a series of articles about the company's sexist corporate culture.

That same year, Michael was in a small group of Uber employees — which included Kalanick and his then girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth — who visited a South Korean karaoke club that resulted in a formal complaint by a female Uber employee.

More recently, Michael's name surfaced in connection with news that Uber's onetime head of Asia Pacific operations, Eric Alexander, had visited India in order to obtain the medical records of a female passenger who had been raped by her Delhi driver.

Alexander, who was fired last week after Recode alerted Uber to his actions, then showed the woman's records to Kalanick and Michael. The executives had grown concerned that the incident could have been staged by Uber's Indian rival Ola, according to Recode. The driver had a criminal record and was sentenced to prison time. Uber wouldn't comment on the executives' actions.

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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