Uber is casting around for a heavyweight British business figure to chair its UK operations as it fights a rearguard action to prevent the loss of its London operating licence.
Sky News has learnt that the world’s biggest ride-hailing app has appointed a top firm of boardroom headhunters to fill the new post in an effort to repair relations with regulators and politicians.
Sources close to Uber said on Tuesday that The Inzito Partnership had been picked to identify an independent chairman for its UK business.
Plans for the appointment were drawn up prior to the confirmation last Friday that Transport for London (TfL) would not renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital, saying that a string of failings meant it was no longer “fit and proper” to hold such a permit.
An Uber insider said that search was now likely to become more urgent.
The ban has sparked a furious backlash from Londoners, with more than 700,000 people signing a petition to allow the company to keep operating despite its self-confessed failings.
Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor who chairs the TfL board, has sought to defend the decision, arguing that Uber has not demonstrated that it can “play by the rules”.
Video: Khan: ‘Uber aren’t operating by the rules’
Uber now has about 40,000 drivers in London?, and is used by about 3.5 million customers, but its rise has sparked the most significant backlash to date against a major champion of the ‘gig economy’.
Losing its ability to operate in London could threaten its ability to strike a deal with Softbank of Japan to invest more than $10bn in the company – even at a steep discount to the $70bn valuation at which it last raised funds.
In its statement on Friday, TfL accused Uber of failing in its approach to reporting criminal offences and its handling of background checks on drivers.
The threat to its licence in one of the company’s most profitable global markets has forced Uber to adopt a conciliatory stance – a position made more straightforward by the recent appointment of former Expedia boss Dara Khosrowshahi as its new chief executive.
Mr Khosrowshahi, who replaced the company’s ousted founder, Travis Kalanick, wrote an open letter to Londoners this week in which he said:
“While Uber has revolutionised the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way.
“On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we’ve made.
“We will appeal this decision on behalf of millions of Londoners, but we do so with the knowledge that we must also change.”
Video: Uber under pressure as boss apologises for mistakes
Mr Khosrowshahi was reported on Tuesday to be considering travelling to London to hold talks with regulators in a bid to regain its licence.
The ride?-sharing app has faced numerous regulatory obstacles in markets around the world, but having its licence abolished in London is one of the biggest blows it has faced during its short history.
Last week, it emerged that Uber’s fee for operating in London would rise from £3,000 to £3m if it was granted a new five-year licence, following changes to the way that TfL calculates such payments.
In May, TfL renewed the company’s permit to operate but for a period of only four months, amid continued opposition and threats of legal challenges from the GMB union and Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association.
The company did not respond to a request for comment about its appointment of The Inzito Partnership.