- Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Wolfe quit the newspaper on Tuesday following a Bloomberg report that she would join the board of directors at Palantir, a controversial data analytics startup founded by Peter Thiel.
- Wolfe is one of three new board members, and the first-ever female director at the 17-year-old company, which has its eyes on a potential fall IPO.
- California, where Palantir is headquartered, requires public companies to have at least one female director.
- Wolfe is friends with Thiel, and wrote a book about his famous fellowship program, which pays students to drop out of college.
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Palantir, the secretive data-analytics company founded by tech billionaire and outspoken Trump-supporter Peter Thiel, is used to courting controversy on hot-button topics like surveillance and politics.
But the tech company’s newest addition to its board of directors has caused a stir in an unexpected realm: the media.
On Tuesday, Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Wolfe announced that she was joining Palantir’s board of directors, becoming the first woman to join the company’s board.
The news, which was first reported in a Bloomberg scoop, quickly spread across media circles and confounded observers, not least because journalists are typically not allowed to join corporate boards.
And tech companies — particularly those preparing for a multi-billion dollar IPO — typically want a level of operational experience and expertise not possessed by the average news scribe.
Wolfe, who was based in the Wall Street Journal’s New York bureau, is the daughter of famous journalist and author Tom Wolfe, whose novels include the 1987 bestseller “Bonfire of the Vanities.” She is friends with Thiel, the cofounder of Palantir, which was valued at $20 billion in its last public funding round five years ago.
The Wall Street Journal did not make any internal, newsroom-wide announcement about Wolfe’s unusual departure, but word quickly spread across the newsroom. The code of conduct for Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, explicitly bars employees from serving as directors of for-profit institutions, except under specific circumstances.
It’s unclear how much WSJ management knew about Wolfe’s move to Palantir leading up to the announcement, or whether Wolfe was allowed to stay at the newspaper while her Palantir role was still private, one source told Business Insider.
Wolfe joined Palantir as one of three new independent directors brought on as the company looks forward to a possible fall IPO.
Wolfe declined to comment. Colleen Schwartz, a spokesperson for Dow Jones, confirmed that Wolfe resigned to accept the job at Palantir. Lisa Gordon, a spokesperson for Palantir, declined to comment.
Wolfe has deleted her Twitter account
Soon after her board seat was made public, Wolfe announced on Twitter that she was leaving the Journal. Joe Lonsdale, an 8VC partner and Palantir cofounder, responded with his congratulations.
—Joe Lonsdale (@JTLonsdale) June 24, 2020
Her Tweet quickly generated backlash from people critical of Palantir’s record of contracting with government agencies such as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And journalists piled on, decrying the conflict of interest in the situation.
Wolfe has since deleted her Twitter account.
It’s unclear why Wolfe got involved with Palantir, but she has publicly acknowledged that she is friends with Thiel. Her 2017 book “Valley of the Gods” follows recipients of Thiel’s fellowship, which pays students to drop out of college.
Wolfe’s long reporting career has spanned business publications including BusinessWeek and Portfolio, though her most recent bylines are for the weekly column Weekend Confidential, which is mostly light profiles and interviews with people like the professional home organizer Marie Kondo and poet Maggie Smith.
Palantir was also under pressure to diversify its board. California, where the company is headquartered, requires public companies to have at least one female director. Palantir stuck to the minimum.
With the exception of CEO Alex Karp, who is half Black, the remaining members of the board are all white men.
The other two new board seats went to Zillow founder Spencer Racott and 8VC partner Alexander Moore, an early employee at Palantir.