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Airbnb Ethics Chief Leaving Lodging Giant After Four Years (1)

May 29, 2020, 8:21 PMUpdated: May 29, 2020, 9:46 PM

Airbnb Inc., which earlier this month announced plans to cut 25% percent of its workforce due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has parted ways with its chief ethics officer and former general counsel.

Robert Chesnut, who joined Airbnb as its in-house legal chief in April 2016, told Bloomberg Law in a phone call Friday that his last day at the San Francisco-based online hospitality marketplace was May 27. He had previously posted on his LinkedIn profile about his departure.

“I’ll wake up tomorrow without a full time ‘day job’ for the first time since law school,” Chesnut wrote. “It feels great, and I couldn’t be more excited about the next chapter of my career—helping companies find purpose and drive #integrity into their culture.”

Chesnut said his exit had been in the works long before the coronavirus outbreak created economic headwinds for Airbnb and plenty of other U.S. companies.

“This is something we had talked about a while back and I agreed to stay on and do a good transition,” Chesnut said. “I had done the ethics work at Airbnb when I was the general counsel, and it’s really a full-time job in and of itself.”

Airbnb hired former Liberty Media Corp. legal chief Richard Baer to serve as its new chief legal officer in September. Chesnut relinquished his general counsel role the following month, according to his LinkedIn profile, and he then became Airbnb’s first chief ethics officer.

That position is one Airbnb still plans to permanently fill, but probably not until after the coronavirus crisis subsides, Chesnut said.

“They will hire somebody for this role, but it just may be a little further down the line,” said Chesnut, who will remain an adviser to Airbnb.

Next Steps

After practicing law for 35 years, the 60-year-old Chesnut is now looking forward to taking some time off to consider his options.

In recent weeks he’s been busy doing podcasts, webinars, fireside chats with legal recruiting firms, and talking virtually at online conferences about the importance of corporate integrity to reduce risks in the workplace, a subject that Chesnut has written a book on called “Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead An Ethical Revolution.”

The book looks at the rise of the #MeToo movement and draws on Chesnut’s experiences at Airbnb and Uber Technologies Inc., where he once served on the ride-sharing giant’s safety advisory board. Chesnut said he also might do consulting work, noting that he already does some for education technology company Chegg Inc., where he spent nearly six years as general counsel before joining Airbnb.

“In a crisis like we have now, thinking about integrity becomes all the more important,” Chesnut said. “The stakes are higher—every word and action takes on greater significance when people are remote and under pressure.”

Chesnut’s exit from Airbnb follows that of former COO Belinda Johnson, an attorney who stepped down from the company March 1 but remains a member of its board of directors. Johnson previously served as Airbnb’s chief business and legal affairs officer, having come aboard as its first-ever general counsel in late 2011.

An Airbnb spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law in a statement that the company was grateful to Chesnut for his service and looked forward to continuing to work with him. Kevin Heneghan, a former Hanson Bridgett partner serving as associate general counsel for policy and compliance at Airbnb, will now become interim chief ethics and compliance officer, the company said.

Prior to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus, Airbnb was expected to pursue an initial public offering sometime later this year.

(Adds Airbnb comment and information on interim compliance chief in second-to-last paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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