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SoftBank-backed OYO elevates key exec to board

Bangalore

OYO Hotels, the SoftBank Group-backed startup that's built up a large chain of branded hotels and vacation homes around the world, has elevated a key executive to the board to help it focus on profitability and quality control.

Aditya Ghosh, who had served as OYO's chief executive officer for India and South Asia, is stepping up to a board position and will be succeeded by Rohit Kapoor, the company's current new real estate businesses chief.

On the board of directors, Mr Ghosh joins founder and group CEO Ritesh Agarwal, SoftBank Vision Fund managing partner Munish Varma and recent addition Betsy Atkins, an early investor in Yahoo and EBay Inc, among others.

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Before joining OYO a year ago, Mr Ghosh headed up India's leading budget airline IndiGo. He is now set to focus on sustainability and the path to profitability, OYO said in a statement on Monday. Mr Ghosh will oversee a wide portfolio of business areas, spanning safety and security, customer experience, corporate governance, revenue management and stakeholder communications.

OYO has been growing at a rapid speed, but its reputation has been tarnished along the way by customer complaints about bad experiences and grievances about poor or unfair treatment from several of the over 20,000 hotel owners in its chain.

Citing Mr Ghosh's strong business acumen and track record, Mr Agarwal said he is "the perfect choice for this larger and more strategic role, at a global level". Mr Ghosh said that he would further build OYO as a global brand "by not just growing fast but growing right".

OYO, based in Gurgaon in the suburbs of India's capital New Delhi, was founded six years ago by then-teenager Mr Agarwal. For India's budget travellers, OYO's promise of standardised and predictable quality stays was a breath of fresh air from a hotel-booking market that was rife with misleadingly pretty online photos that bore little resemblance to the decrepit rooms found upon arrival.

The company's staff help hotel owners upgrade everything from linen to bathroom fixtures to toiletries, with a bright red OYO sign acting as a seal of approval, encouraging travellers to book on its website. OYO takes a cut of roughly 20 per cent.

SoftBank's Vision Fund has so far invested approximately US$1.5 billion in OYO pushing its valuation to US$10 billion. Other investors include Airbnb, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners. OYO is the first Indian startup to achieve global scale, growing quickly in major markets like China and the US.

Earlier this year, Mr Agarwal, now 26, announced that he was borrowing about US$2 billion to buy back a 20 per cent OYO stake from other investors, with help from financial institutions. SoftBank Group founder Masayoshi Son personally guaranteed the loans to Mr Agarwal, and among the institutions funding the buyback was Japan's Mizuho Financial Group. BLOOMBERG