Uber board approves major investment by SoftBank, limits on former chief Kalanick

Uber’s board of directors Tuesday approved a plan that reins in the influence of ousted chief executive Travis Kalanick and opens the door to a colossal investment by telecommunications giant SoftBank.

The proposal adopted by Uber’s board also promised to put an end to infighting between Kalanick supporters and investors who suspected the co-founder was plotting a wily return to the company’s leadership.

“Today, after welcoming its new directors Ursula Burns and John Thain, the board voted unanimously to move forward with the proposed investment by SoftBank and with governance changes that would strengthen its independence and ensure equality among all shareholders,” Uber said in an emailed statement.

“SoftBank’s interest is an incredible vote of confidence in Uber’s business and long-term potential, and we look forward to finalizing the investment in the coming weeks.”

If the investment goes ahead as proposed, SoftBank would directly pump between $1 billion (about ¥112 billion) and $1.25 billion into Uber at the San Francisco-based startup’s current valuation of $69 billion, according to a source familiar with the matter.

As a secondary investment move, the Japanese company would put out an open offer to buy 14 percent to 17 percent of outstanding shares from large investors at a discounted price, the source said.

Major investors who are unhappy with the leading smartphone-summoned ride share startup, or who want to cash-in on early investments that have multiplied in value, could take SoftBank up on the offer.

Governance changes approved by the board hinge on the SoftBank investment taking place.

Changes included eliminating “super-voting” power of some shares, such as those owned by Kalanick, to shift to a one vote per share model that would curtail the co-founder’s clout, according to the source.

The board also endorsed Uber going public with a stock market debut by the year 2019.

The board itself would expand from 11 seats to 17 seats, with two of the additions going to SoftBank and the other four being independent. One of the four independent seats would chair the board.

Rule changes for the board would include requiring two-thirds or more of the board to approve any new chief executive hired before the stock market debut, signaling that newly-appointed boss Dara Khosrowshahi would be safely ensconced at the startup.

If all of those pieces fall into place, a lawsuit filed by early Uber investor Benchmark Capital will be dropped, ending a distracting power struggle at the company, according to the source.

Kalanick last week unilaterally appointed two new members to the board of directors, in a surprise move that increased tension within the leadership.

Kalanick, who was pressured to resign in June as head of Uber, retains sizable voting rights in the privately-held company due to his ‘super-vote’ shares.

He appointed former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain to the board Friday “in light of a recent Board proposal to dramatically restructure the board and significantly alter the company’s voting rights,” Kalanick said at the time.

Kalanick’s move was a finger in the eye of major Uber investor Benchmark Capital, which earlier filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of fraud, breach of contract and of plotting to manipulate the board of directors to allow him to return as CEO.

Uber’s board of directors is split between detractors and supporters of Kalanick, who had been the driving force behind the company’s massive global expansion but whose brash style made him a liability.

Tensions appeared to subside in August with the appointment of Khosrowshahi, former boss of the global travel giant Expedia, as the new Uber head.

Uber, which has accumulated financial losses, has been caught up in a whirlwind of controversy, facing allegations of sexual harassment, theft of technology, corruption and the use of illegal software.

At the same time, its drivers have been struggling with a wave of opposition from traditional taxis in several countries.

Uber is also facing fierce opposition from various regulators, most recently in London where officials have refused to renew its license.

Uber’s new chief executive held “constructive” talks with London’s transport authority on Tuesday, the ride hailing firm said.

A judge on Tuesday delayed until Dec. 4 the start of the trial in Waymo’s suit against Uber over swiped self-driving car technology, giving the unit of Google-parent Alphabet time to study fresh evidence.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car unit, which claimed former manager Anthony Levandowski took technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber.

“We’re ready to go to trial now, and will be ready after this very brief continuance,” Uber said.

Waymo argued in the lawsuit that a “calculated theft” of its technology netted Otto a buyout of more than $500 million, and enabled Uber to revive a stalled self-driving car program.

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