Benchmark may have found a new way to ban Travis Kalanick from Uber

After months of talks, Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank may be close to buying a huge chunk of Uber.

And one of the stipulations it may agree to is to ban Uber founder Travis Kalanick from returning as CEO, block him from being appointed chairman and forbid him from leading one of the board’s subcommittees, sources have told Bloomberg.

This is a master chess move by Uber’s largest venture investor Benchmark, which wants to see Kalanick removed from any role at the company, including his participation on the board.

Benchmark, Uber’s largest VC shareholder, led a coalition of investors that forced Kalanick to resign in June, after a series of scandals rocked the company throughout 2017.

Last month, Benchmark even sued Kalanick over Kalanick’s command of three board seats, accusing him of harboring intentions to get himself reappointed as CEO. Kalanick won a chess move on that lawsuit when a judge kicked the suit to private arbitration.

This deal could be Benchmark’s counter move.

That’s because Benchmark was reportedly one of the investors who was dragging its feet on allowing Softbank to make an investment. And maybe for good reason. Softbank was hoping to profit from Uber’s turmoil this year and buy out other investor shares on the cheap, at a price that equaled a valuation of about $US45 billion, Recode reported.

Uber is currently valued at about $US69 billion. In July, CNBC reported that Softbank had all but given up on making that deal happen. But Softbank came back.

Battle for the board seats

As of August, while Uber’s search for a new CEO dragged on and Benchmark filed its lawsuit, the board was considering three proposals that would allow existing investors to sell shares, the New York Times reported. These were a coalition led by the Dragoneer Investment Group , one led another early Uber investor, Shervin Pishevar, that wanted to buy out Benchmark to end the board’s fighting that way. And the third was Softbank.

Bloomberg reports that investment firm General Atlantic is also in talks to buy in, maybe as part of the Dragoneer coalition.

If Softbank’s talks succeed this time, Uber may sell another $US1 billion worth of shares to Softbank, General Atlantic and Dragoneer at Uber’s current $US69 billion valuation, and allow investors to buy as much as $US9 billion worth of shares from existing investors, at share prices that start as low as a $US45 billion valuation, Bloomberg reports.

If Softbank agrees to ban Kalanick, Benchmark might not block the deal, and may even sell some if its shares, if new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi gives his consent, sources told Bloomberg.

Softbank also wants up to two board seats as part of its investment. It’s not clear if this would add to the 11 person board, or reshuffle existing seats. Either way, if Softbank joins Team Benchmark, this pushes Kalanick even father out of Uber. Of the three board seats Kalanick controls, two remain empty (and he sits on the third). Benchmark hopes its lawsuit, now in private arbitration, will force Kalanick to turn over control of those seats to the board. It also wants Kalanick to be removed from Uber’s board altogether, it said in its lawsuit.

And then again, these talks could fall apart — as they did in July — dashing the Game of Thrones-like deal.

But, with Uber banned from London, potentially out of Quebec, embroiled in federal probes and a bitter lawsuit with Waymo, not to mention still losing more than $US700 million per quarter, the company may be eager to raise more cash while it still commands a nearly $US70 billion valuation.

Benchmark, Kalanick and Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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