How the personal shapes the professional

March 12, 2020 / North America

Hear from Tony West, Uber’s Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary

Recently, I had the privilege of moderating a fireside chat convened by the Women of Uber Legal Team that brought two remarkable leaders to our headquarters in San Francisco: Karen Dunn, partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, and Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First for America.
(A third guest and good friend of mine, Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan—a cofounder of Kaplan Hecker & Fink, one of the nation’s few boutique litigation firms led entirely by women—was regrettably unable to join us because of travel delays.)
All three women have forged extraordinary careers in law, public policy, and public service. But our discussion focused on one case in particular: their pending lawsuit to hold accountable those who perpetrated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, two and a half years ago.
Over the course of two days in August 2017, the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally brought hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis into the streets. Many came bearing tiki torches, homemade weapons, or even assault rifles. Tensions ran high – and the situation turned, all too predictably, into violence.
By the time the rally was over, more than two dozen people had been injured in clashes between protestors and counter-protestors. And one young woman—a passionate 32-year-old activist who’d come to face down the hatred that had reared its head in her community—was tragically killed.
Our entire chat about Karen, Amy, and Robbie’s efforts on behalf of Charlottesville residents to bring those responsible to justice was fascinating. 
As I reflected on our conversation, I was struck by Karen and Amy’s powerful responses to one question in particular: when I asked what had moved them beyond outrage—which of course we all felt after Charlottesville—to take action.
It turns out both Karen and Amy’s families were deeply impacted by the Holocaust: Amy’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors who lost most of their families; Karen’s grandmother and her immediate family escaped Poland days before the Nazis arrived, but the rest did not survive. Each had a searingly personal connection—just two generations removed—to violent anti-Semitism. And each had learned about the dangers of intolerance, and the imperative to stand against hatred, not from history books, but directly from their respective grandparents. So it’s no coincidence that they decided to take on this case.
Now, I don’t doubt that there are plenty of lawyers and activists who could’ve been persuaded to file a lawsuit as compelling as this one. But for Karen and Amy, no persuasion was necessary. As they explained, as soon as Robbie called and asked them to help, they knew they had to. Nothing could keep them away from this fight.
To me, this courageous response was a stirring reminder of how the personal always, and inevitably, shapes the professional.
We all have unique backgrounds, experiences, values, and perspectives that inform our daily work, fuel our passions, and push us to pursue certain challenges. As I listened to Karen and Amy, I was reminded again of the real and powerful impact it has when people have the opportunity to pour their whole selves into their work.
It really does matter who’s in the room—or who answers the phone—when the toughest calls come in.
People often talk about this in the abstract, especially in the context of diversity and inclusion. And of course, there are countless studies that show how organizations benefit, and how their people thrive when diverse perspectives and passions are unleashed in pursuit of worthy goals.
But there’s nothing abstract about risking your personal safety to help a community hold violent extremists accountable. Not just the people of Charlottesville, but the American people, are better off because Karen, Robbie, and Amy were the ones who answered that call.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up for updates, or support the case, visit Integrity First for America’s website: