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How Harvard degree paves the way for the largest SPAC deal in the world | Financial market news

Several years after founding Grab Holdings Inc. in 2012, Anthony Tan received an advice from Jack Ma. Co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Tell the businessman life is a tsunami. When you’re on the waves, get ready for the crash, he said.

By 2020, all of that is over. The coronavirus has left cities across Southeast Asia in lockdowns. Demand for ride-hailing, a key business, plummeted. Then, around December, its big plan to merge with its longtime rival Gojek collapsed.

Tan is not ready to give up going public. Earlier this year, a connection introduced him to Silicon Valley investor Brad Gerstner, founder of Altimeter Capital Management. The two men come from opposite sides of the world but share a lot in common. Both are Harvard Business School alumni, and both have taken easier paths in life to start their own companies.

Anthony Tan, group chief executive and co-founder of Grab Holdings Inc [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]

Within about three months, the couple announced the largest SPAC deal in the world, which will put Grab on the list in the US with a valuation of nearly $ 40 billion.

Tan, 39, said: “A year ago, the world looked like it was coming to an end. “As an entrepreneur, you go through these crazy lows and crazy highs.”

In an interview on Zoom, Tan recalled that after the initial introduction was made, Gerstner called a few mutual friends to check on him. They include Rich Barton, the lead entrepreneur Zillow Group Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Grab board member. Tan has passed the test.

The special-purpose merger Grab-Altimeter underscores the importance of the technology world and how graduating from universities like Harvard still helps open the doors. .

Gerstner also invested in Coupang Inc., the South Korean e-commerce giant founded by Bom Kim, who attended Harvard Business School at the same time as Tan before Kim dropped out. Grab’s rival Gojek was founded by Nadiem Makarim, a classmate at Tan’s Harvard Business School who is Indonesia’s education minister.

Brad Gerstner, founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital Management LLC [File: Kholood Eid/Bloomberg]

Gerstner, 49, says there are a lot of billions of people who were “made out of that class.”

Their three companies had a combined valuation of around $ 130 billion, including nearly $ 80 billion for Coupang after going public in March.

“The world is shrinking,” Gerstner said. “Some of the most interesting leaders right now are in regions like Southeast Asia.”

Tan, born into a wealthy Malaysian business family, was inspired to start Grab while studying at Harvard Business School from 2009 to 2011. He left the family business, Tan Chong Motor Holdings Bhd and started a taxi service called MyTeksi with Harvard classmate Tan Hooi Ling. Then, Grab will expand into businesses that include food delivery and online payments as it becomes a so-called super app in Southeast Asia.

Gerstner was at Harvard about a decade earlier, from 1999 to 2000. The American investor who grew up in a small Indiana town, admires Warren Buffett a lot. He started his career as a securities attorney handling IPOs. After earning an MBA at Harvard, he joined the venture capital firm General Catalyst, then founded and sold three companies.

During the 2008 global financial crisis, he founded Altimeter Capital himself with just $ 3 million raised from friends and family. Today, the company invests in public and private technology companies, under management of $ 15 billion. He’s supported by tech players including Expedia Group Inc., Uber and software company Snowflake Inc.

Tan, an advisor at the World Economic Forum, has always stressed the importance of business partnerships. He spends most of his time online, according to people who know him. On the eve of the merger announcement, Tan said he was going to dinner with a trading partner.

While in Indonesia, Tan abandoned his signature black T-shirt and wore a traditional batik shirt. He speaks to the conference guests in Indonesian. When visiting Tokyo to attend the conference of SoftBank Group Corp. in 2019, he bowed deeply after SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, his original most fervent supporter, introduced him as “a new superstar in the AI ​​era”.

SoftBank has invested about $ 3 billion in Grab, but relations with Son cooled after the Japanese company pressured Grab to join Gojek, according to people familiar with the matter.

Tan said that his relationship with Son is still close. During an interview with Zoom, he took out his phone and read aloud a piece of text he said he got from Son about the merger. “Anthony, thank you very much for the update. I’m really glad to hear that the IPO is going well, ”Tan read.

Gerstner, meanwhile, says he’s impressed by how Grab persisted in overcoming the pandemic – and by its decision, like his own, plow the soil himself.

In the end, Grab chose an independent path, he said. “It’s simply one of the biggest internet companies doing one of the biggest IPOs of the year.”



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