- Uber’s board held a “marathon meeting” last week, Bloomberg reported, as the company grapples with its ties to Saudi Arabia in the wake of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
- The Kingdom now reportedly owns more than 10% of the ride-hailing firm, which is eyeing an IPO as valuable as $120 billion next year.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was one of the first to pull out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment conference in October after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but behind the scenes, his board has been working in overdrive to ensure the international debacle doesn’t once again embroil the company in a wave of bad press.
The company’s board held a “marathon meeting” last week, Bloomberg News reported, with all directors in attendance, including former CEO Travis Kalanick and Saudi official Othman Al-Rumayyan, who manages the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.
Saudi Arabia, through “direct and indirect holdings” now owns more than 10% of Uber, Bloomberg also reported. That’s double the 5% stake Uber said the Kingdom had purchased in 2016 for $3.5 billion, and could cause a headache for Uber as it races towards an IPO as soon as next year.
An Uber spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Like Khosrowshahi and fellow Uber board member Ariana Huffington, most of Wall Street was quick to shun the Saudi Arabian conference, colloquially known as “Davos in the desert.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin all opted to skip the event, yet Kalanick along with SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son were still in Riyadh last month.
SoftBank, another Uber investor, has also accepted $45 billion worth of funding for its investments, according to Bloomberg. The Japanese company’s Vision Fund is heavily invested in transportation initiatives including GrabTaxi, GM Cruise, and Nvidia.
Lyft, Uber’s closest competitor that’s also racing towards an IPO, isn’t immune to the Saudi shadow. Saudi prince Prince Alwaleed bin Talal led a $247.7 million investment in the company, which now has a roughly 35% market share in the US, that translates to a 5.3% stake, Reuters reported.
“Uber is creating lots of jobs in Saudi Arabia and making life easier for drivers, customers and shareholders,” Saudi’s Al-Rumayyan said at the conference last month. “We did not have these interests before and we want to enhance these sectors.”