when Uber dreamed of Bernard Arnault and Xavier Neel as VIP lobbyists

Entrepreneurs Xavier Niel (left), founder of Free, and Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH.

January 21, 2015 Travis Kalanick is ready to go all out: while driving through Paris, the American Uber boss must convince the two big cats of French capitalism to invest in his company, which for many still remains nothing more than a curious UFO halfway between a transportation company and a tech startup .

Seduction operation starts at noon at Apicius, a posh restaurant for 8e arrondissement of Paris, where Xavier Niel, founder of the Free telephone company, who is also an individual shareholder World. It continues a few hours later, on the other side of the Champs Elysées, at LVMH headquarters, where he meets Bernard Arnault, the omnipotent boss of the luxury giant. Alone, two Frenchmen weigh more than 35 billion euros. But Mr. Kalanick is not interested in their wealth, but in their political influence.

This is the stated goal of Project Cheetah, as revealed in an Uber Files survey that World participated with various media partners, including The keeper. Launched a few months earlier by Uber management, this multi-hundred-million-dollar funding round is designed to recruit employees around the world. “strategic investors” endowed with sufficient weight to defend the unceremonious methods of the American group in the face of recalcitrant governments.

“We want them to help us, and if they invest personally, it’s a good way to put your skin on the line. We don’t really need their money, but they can be useful allies.”summarizes in an e-mail Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Cauty, general manager of the group in Western Europe.

“Uber Files”, an international investigation

The Uber Files is an investigation based on thousands of internal Uber documents sent by an anonymous source to a British daily newspaper. The keeperand sent to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 media partners, including World.

Emails, presentations, meeting minutes… These 124,000 documents, dated between 2013 and 2017, offer a rare insight into a startup that has sought to establish itself in cities around the world despite an unfavorable regulatory context. They detail how Uber used in France, as elsewhere, all the tricks of lobbying to try and change the law in its favor.

The Uber Files also reveals how a Californian group, determined to impose itself as a fait accompli and, acting illegally if necessary, used methods that deliberately played with the rule of law or that could amount to a legal obstruction of the investigation it was the subject of.

Find all of our articles from the Uber Files survey

Role of temporary ambassadors

The company wants to repeat the Australian example, where the support of a wealthy family of investors “played a key role in obtaining our license to operate”, as another leader recalls. Much more useful than “passive investors who promise a lot but deliver nothing”.

In every high-stakes country, Uber executives identify profiles that can become their VIP lobbyists: in Italy, former chairman Silvio Berlusconi; in Spain footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi; Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. On the French side, Uber is testing several CAC 40 heavyweights, from Vincent Bolloret to François Pinault, through the Dassault and Decaux families. Their preference, however, is given to the first tricolor millionaire, Bernard Arnault, who is considered capable“to influence the French legal situation” – requested Worldhe didn’t answer.

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