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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

SoftBank is now Uber's largest shareholder

The Japanese telecoms corporation's deal closed on Thursday will come as a relief to the controversy-ridden ride hailing firm

Uber has been struggling with a number of controversies from sexual harassment to aggressive tactics to undermine competition. Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo.
Uber has been struggling with a number of controversies from sexual harassment to aggressive tactics to undermine competition. Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo.

A group of investors led by SoftBank Group closed a deal with Uber Technologies on Thursday, making SoftBank the largest stakeholder in the ride-services firm and providing a much-needed boost to controversy-ridden Uber.

The deal includes a large purchase of shares from existing Uber investors and employees at a discounted valuation for the company of $48 billion, a 30 per cent drop from Uber's most recent valuation of $68 billion. These secondary stock sales will be completed by the end of the day Thursday on the Nasdaq Private Market, an Uber spokesman said.

The investor group, which is co-led by SoftBank and Dragoneer Investment Group and includes Sequoia Capital, has also completed a US$1.25 billion investment of fresh cash at the other, higher valuation, the spokesman said.

In all, the investors will take a stake of about a 17.5 per cent in Uber, with SoftBank keeping 15 per cent, becoming the company's largest shareholder. The investment triggers a number of governance changes at Uber, including the addition of new board members, which take effect immediately.

"This is a great outcome for our shareholders, employees and customers, strengthening Uber's governance as we double down on our technology investments and continue to bring our services to more people in more places around the world," said the Uber spokesman.

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The official closing of the deal marks the end of a months-long process fraught with infighting among board members.

Power struggles have been fierce - an early and large investor, Benchmark Capital, sued in August to force co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick off the board. Meanwhile, Uber has been struggling with controversies including federal criminal probes, a massive data breach and a lawsuit claiming trade-secrets theft.

The board first voted to move forward with the SoftBank investment in October, and the deal at times seemed close to falling apart, until Uber said last month that the investor group had enough willing stock sellers to go through with the transaction.

As part of the terms of the deal, Uber will expand its board from 11 to 17 members including four independent directors, limit some early shareholders' voting power and slash the control wielded Mr Kalanick, who remains on the board.

Benchmark had also agreed to drop its lawsuit against Mr Kalanick upon completion of the deal.

SoftBank has added two representatives to Uber's board of directors: Rajeev Misra, who is chief executive of SoftBank's Vision Fund, a US$98 billion tech investment vehicle; and Marcelo Claure, Sprint Corporation president and chief executive and a member of SoftBank's board of directors, according to a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorised to speak publicly because the plans are still private.

Uber declined to confirm any new board members.

"Uber has a very bright future under its new leadership," Mr Misra said in a written statement, referring to new Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who helped broker the deal and benefits from the new governance changes.

Misra wants Uber to focus on growing in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia - not Asia, which has been among the most costly and competitive regions for the ride-services firm, according to the source. Such a change could help Uber achieve profitability more quickly, but could also signal a retreat from some of the biggest transportation markets.

SoftBank also has stakes in China ride-hailing app Didi, India's Ola and Southeast Asia's Grab, all of which compete with Uber in the region.

The Financial Times first reported Mr Misra's comments earlier Thursday.

SoftBank had no trouble drumming up interest among shareholders, as many investors and employees were unable to sell as many shares as they would have liked because SoftBank had put limits on how much it would buy.

Mr Kalanick sold nearly a third of his 10 per cent stake in the ride-services company for about US$1.4 billion, according to another person familiar with the matter. He had offered to sell half of his shares.