Uber went public on Friday in one of the largest initial public offerings in history.
Travis Kalanick, its founder, former CEO, board member, and largest shareholder, who was forced out a couple of years ago, was told he couldn’t stand on the New York Stock Exchange opening bell dais, much less ring it. (He was there on the floor in the crowd with his dad though and was greeted with applause when he walked in.)
But Uber’s current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, didn’t ring the bell either.
That honor went to Austin Geidt, Uber’s fourth employee.
Her career story is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend.
In 2010, she saw some tweets about a startup looking for an intern. That startup was Uber.
The economy was still rocky in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial collapse. Jobs — even internships — were hard to get, and her résumé was “blank,” she told the audience at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in 2015, when she was 30 years old.
She reached out to Uber’s CEO at the time, Ryan Graves, who told her to put together a presentation about herself. Having struck out so many times, she went all in, loading her slide deck with humor and pleading with him to give her a shot.
And she became employee No. 4. As an intern, she did everything from cold-calling prospective drivers to handling support calls.
Within five years, Uber was everywhere, one of the most important new companies the Valley produced. And she was one of the company’s most powerful executives. She ran the team that expanded Uber into new international markets. Her role at the company has since grown to include head of operations at Uber’s self-driving-car unit, the Advanced Technologies Group.
Even five years ago, when Uber raised another $2.1 billion and hit a valuation of $62.5 billion, her stock options had made her a very wealthy woman.
Because she’s not a named officer, the company doesn’t have to reveal how much stock she owns, so we don’t know how many millions she made on Uber’s massive IPO.
But it was a surprisingly painful journey to get here, she has revealed.
When she was 19 and in college, she had a drug problem, she said.
“I had a drug addiction. I got sober. I’m 10 years sober,” she said in 2015. “I was in a really dark place.”
She said that “it was a moment of stepping back with my family” and realizing “I don’t like who I am — I just kind of physically, spiritually, emotionally was just really sick.”
She went to rehab, but it really took her a few years to heal. She left school during that time and returned, sober and 25, to graduate.
But she “was so insecure about feeling behind,” she said, adding, “I was a sober, 25-year-old senior, which was a very different experience.”
It seems as if a high-pressure job at a Silicon Valley startup, especially one as watched as Uber, would be a dangerous amount of stress for someone newly healed from addiction.
But the opposite is true, Geidt said. Though she loves the job and the company — “I live and breathe Uber,” she said — the rehab experience keeps her grounded and gave her management skills.
It taught her to be honest and direct, to turn feelings of being overwhelmed into small, manageable steps, to have a “sense of humility” rather than “feeling self-important,” she said.
But ultimately, it keeps her focused on the important stuff in life.
“I’m so proud of the work my team has done at Uber and of the work I’ve done at Uber. But it’s not the proudest thing I’ve done, right? I’m more proud of being sober,” she said. “I just have perspective.”
Here’s the full interview from 2015: