Yesterday, former Fortune reporter Dan Primack reported that not only was billionaire investor Peter Thiel being considered for Donald Trump’s transition team but that Thiel was, in fact, already on it as of yesterday.
That report has since been confirmed. Now, a newer report from Primack — a tweet, actually — states that Trump’s transition team is “looking at” Rex Tibbens, the COO of the ride-share company Lyft, as a potential candidate for U.S. Transportation Secretary.
Asked earlier today about the claim, a Lyft spokesperson said Tibbens would “be a valuable asset to any organization, but he is not interested in pursuing a role outside of Lyft.”
A source close to Tibbens separately says that Tibbens hasn’t had any conversations with anyone in Trump’s camp.
That doesn’t rule out possible interest by the transition team, however.
Certainly, such an appointment is interesting to noodle. Tibbens would represent the worst kind of crony capitalism, of course. Founders Fund — the venture fund co-founded a decade ago by Thiel — is a shareholder in Lyft, having led the company’s $15 million Series B round in 2013. Thiel has been among the company’s most vocal proponents, in fact. At a TechCrunch Disrupt event in 2014, he described its larger competitor, Uber as, “without question, the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.”
One could easily draw a line from a Transportation Secretary Tibbens to policies or contracts that favor Lyft — and thus further enrich Thiel.
And yet, Tibbens — or someone with a similar background as Tibbens — could be an interesting choice and represent the kind of outsider that Thiel seems to want to take over Washington. While Tibbens has spent the last 18 months with Lyft, presumably learning quite a bit about logistics, we’d guess he has had much to teach his colleagues, too.
Before joining Lyft, Tibbens spent three years as a VP with Amazon where, according to his LinkedIn profile, he “led the technical and product development of the delivery feature of Prime Now, Amazon’s one-hour delivery service.” Tibbens also spent less than a year as a logistics manager at Dell about 16 years ago. (He stayed on with Dell for another 11 years in a series of what seem more like corporate development positions.)
Leaving aside conflicts of interest, is that enough experience to be U.S. Transportation Secretary? We’d be inclined to say, nope. But let’s face it, the future of transportation is changing quickly; bringing in someone who has been working on the forefront of what’s expected to be a massive shift isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Not to knock the current Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, but before taking the job in 2013, he didn’t have vast amounts of related experience, either. A longtime litigator, he served two terms as a city council member of Charlotte, North Carolina, then served one term as the city’s mayor before receiving his federal appointment.
As readers will already know, Thiel was widely vilified for his high-profile support of Trump before the election.
This editor had thought it was all a bit much at the time. In a post on Wednesday, however, I suggested that Trump’s win might turn off entrepreneurs who tolerated Thiel’s involvement in the campaign and might be less forgiving now that Trump has won.
That already seems to be happening. Thiel’s Trump ties may well pay off for those already close to him, however. Notably, he appears to be the only person from the tech world on Trump’s controversial transition team. Others of its members include Anthony Scaramucci, a founder and the co-managing partner of investment firm SkyBridge Capital; three of Trump’s children; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and Rebekah Mercer, a political novice whose hedge fund father was a major donor to the Trump campaign. The full list is here.