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Uber board strikes agreement to pave way for SoftBank investment
[SAN FRANCISCO] Uber Technologies Inc's warring board members have struck a peace deal that would allow a multibillion-dollar investment by SoftBank Group Corp to proceed, and would resolve a legal battle between former chief executive Travis Kalanick and a prominent shareholder.
Venture capital firm Benchmark, an early investor with a board seat in the ride-services company, and Mr Kalanick have reached an agreement over terms of the SoftBank investment, which could be worth up to US$10 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The Uber board first agreed more than a month ago to bring in SoftBank as an investor and board member, but negotiations have been slowed by ongoing fighting between Benchmark and Mr Kalanick.
SoftBank is leading a consortium of investors that plan to invest US$1 billion to US$1.25 billion and buy up to 17 per cent of existing shares from investors and employees in a secondary transaction. The terms are expected to be signed on Sunday, one of the people said.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Uber is valued at US$68 billion, the most highly valued venture-backed company in the world. The SoftBank investment is expected to be at the same valuation, so the company would not suffer any valuation cut, despite its year of cultural turmoil and legal problems.
Completing the SoftBank deal would allow Uber to open a new chapter after a year of controversy, including the resignation of Mr Kalanick, the ouster of several top executives, sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, and multiple federal criminal probes. The deal is also tied to new governance rules that aim to more equally distribute power and bring more oversight to the company.
Also, it would be a major victory for Uber's new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who served as a mediator to help broker the agreement, according to a third person familiar with the matter.
To allow the deal to go forward, Benchmark has agreed to immediately suspend its lawsuit against Mr Kalanick, which it filed in August in an effort to diminish the ex-CEO's power at the company, one of the sources said.
Upon the successful completion of the SoftBank investment, Benchmark would drop the lawsuit entirely, the person said.
A spokeswoman for Benchmark did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mr Kalanick declined to comment.
In turn, Mr Kalanick must receive majority board approval should he want to replace the board seats over which he has control, according to the source. In addition to his own seat, Mr Kalanick controls two more, which are occupied by Ursula Brown, the former Xerox Corp CEO, and former Merrill Lynch & CO Inc CEO John Thain. Mr Kalanick appointed them in August without first consulting with the board.
Uber's board already approved a slate of governance reforms that are contingent on completion of the SoftBank deal. They include removing super-voting rights that gave Mr Kalanick and his allies outsized power, adding new independent directors and increasing the size of the board to 17.
Uber plans to run newspaper ads informing investors about the share purchase. SoftBank will propose a price at which it will buy stock, and if it doesn't get enough buyers, it could propose a higher price or walk away. The company has threatened to invest in ride-hailing rival Lyft if it doesn't get the Uber deal done.