Uber’s board reportedly held a ‘marathon meeting’ as it grapples with its ties to Saudi Arabia

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
  • 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 $US120 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 the kingdom’s now 10% stake in the ride-hailing company could cause problems as it races to go public.

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 $US3.5 billion and could cause a headache for Uber as it races towards an IPO as soon as next year.

An Uber spokesperson declined to comment but confirmed the board did hold its regularly scheduled board meeting last week, as it does every quarter.

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Like Khosrowshahi and fellow Uber board-member Arianna Huffington, most of Wall Street was quick to shun the Saudi 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, but Kalanick was seen in Riyadh that week, according to Bloomberg.

SoftBank, another Uber investor, has also accepted $US45 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 toward an IPO, isn’t immune to the Saudi shadow. Saudi prince Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal led a $US247.7 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.”

Read the full Bloomberg article on how Saudi Arabia’s Uber investment came together here.

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