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SoftBank acquires a 20 percent stake in Uber

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The ride-hailing company’s valuation takes a hit, and the balance of power is about to tip

Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Japanese tech giant SoftBank Group has bought a 20 percent stake in Uber, completing a months-long process, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move drops Uber’s value by about 30 percent from around $70 billion to $48 billion — a reflection of the trouble that the ride-hailing company has experienced across 2017.

More important than the valuation change, though, could be the impact SoftBank’s new stake will have on the influence former CEO Travis Kalanick still has on the company. Kalanick resigned from his post earlier this year after a number of scandals, but still maintains a seat on the company’s board of directors, where he is surrounded by allies and controls 16 percent of the voting power.

The SoftBank deal triggers new governance terms at Uber that were approved by the company’s board in October, though. The size of the board will expand from 11 to 17, which dilutes the power Kalanick wields. Two of those seats will go to SoftBank.

SoftBank is purchasing shares from early investors at a price that reflects the lower valuation of $48 billion (about $33 per share, according to Recode), which still allows them to make a rich exit from the maelstrom that has surrounded Uber over the last few years. It will also buy $1 billion of shares directly from Uber at the older $70 billion valuation.

Uber is the latest addition to SoftBank’s large portfolio of technology companies. It bought Sprint in 2012, British chipmaker ARM in 2016, and robotics company Boston Dynamics in 2017. SoftBank also has stakes in major Uber competitors, like China’s Didi Chuxing, Grab in Southeast Asia, and Ola in India. Its new position of power at Uber could pave the way for partnerships with these other companies down the road.