Investors must share focus on S-E Asia: Grab chief

Grab's Malaysian chief executive Anthony Tan said South-east Asia is such a key focus for the Singapore-based ride-hailing firm that it is willing to turn down capital if investors do not share that emphasis.

"We were born in South-east Asia. We live in South-east Asia. We will die in South-east Asia. And we will do everything for South-east Asia," he declared last Friday, in a public dialogue with DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta at the DBS Asian Insights Conference.

Mr Tan said Grab accepted Japanese automotive giant Toyota as the lead investor in its latest funding round because "they truly understand and localise; they've been hyper-localising", citing Indonesia's so-called national car, the Toyota Kijang, as an example of Toyota's involvement in the region. "That type of partnership, money cannot buy."

Toyota unveiled a US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) investment in Grab last month, in a deal that would see both working more closely on connected cars. The move will also see one Toyota executive join Grab's board of directors, with another team member seconded to Grab.

"The competitive advantage that we had was we chose strategic partners that could think very long term," said Mr Tan, noting that Grab took on partners such as Didi Chuxing in July last year and rival Uber in March this year. The controversial merger with Uber's South-east Asian operations, for an undisclosed amount, also snagged Uber a 27.5 per cent stake in Grab.

Said Mr Tan: "First off, why did we choose Didi and Uber? They are fellow operators, you see, so the top three global ride-sharing companies are: Didi is No. 1, because of volume; No. 2, Uber; No. 3, us... I can probably bluff you about ride-hailing, but I can't bluff these guys.

"So that was why we brought in these strategics versus just collecting a bunch of fragmented money. Because money was not something we needed in the short run."

He also said Grab has previously had to turn away "capital that wasn't strategic, didn't add value".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Investors must share focus on S-E Asia: Grab chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe