By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) – Uber appointed Laurel Powers-Freeling, who has held a series of banking roles, as its first UK chairman just as it battles to retain its operating license in London, its most important European market.
Powers-Freeling, who has previously been chief executive of retailer Marks & Spencer’s <MKS.L> banking arm M&S Money and a senior adviser at the Bank of England, will take on the newly created role from Nov. 1.
“Uber is transforming how people get around and as a business it is also undergoing an important period of change,” she said in a statement.
“I look forward to working with the UK business to help them manage and implement that change,” she said.
Uber is battling to keep its 40,000 London drivers on the road after the British capital stripped it of its license, deeming it unfit to run a taxi service. It cited its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
The Silicon Valley firm can continue to take passengers until an appeals process is exhausted, which could take years. The first hearing in the case is due on Dec. 11.
But next week, the southern English city of Brighton will decide on the firm’s application to renew its license in the area which is due to expire on Nov. 4, in what would be a further blow to the company if it were rejected.
Uber’s British management has been criticized by London Mayor Sadiq Khan for employing an “an army of PR experts and an army of lawyers” and not engaging well enough with the authorities.
Uber, valued at around $70 billion with backers including Goldman Sachs <GS.N> and BlackRock <BLK.N>, hopes the newly created UK independent non-executive role will help provide knowledge and experience to its British team.
“With this new position Laurel will help us with the next phase of changes we want to make to our UK business,” said Uber’s UK interim general manager, Tom Elvidge.
“We’re determined to learn from the mistakes of the past and make things right,” he said.
Elvidge has led the day-to-day running of Uber’s British operations since predecessor Jo Bertram said she was quitting the role earlier this month, according to emails seen by Reuters.
Uber is still recruiting for a permanent replacement.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Jason Neely)