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Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling to exit her operational roles

Tan Hooi Ling speaks at Bloomberg Live Sooner Than You Think Conference. (Paul Miller/Bloomberg)
Tan Hooi Ling speaks at Bloomberg Live Sooner Than You Think Conference. (Paul Miller/Bloomberg) (Photographer: Paul Miller/Bloomberg)

By Olivia Poh and Yoolim Lee

(Bloomberg) —Grab Holdings Ltd. co-founder Tan Hooi Ling is stepping down from her operational roles by the end of the year, more than a decade after she helped start the Singapore-based ride-hailing and food delivery company.

Tan, 39, will also give up her seat on the board, though she will remain an adviser to the company, Grab said Thursday in a statement. She currently leads Grab’s technology and corporate strategy teams, and previously served as operating chief until 2022.

Her exit leaves Chief Executive Officer Anthony Tan’s management team steering the company without its co-founder as it fights to reverse years of losses. Last week, its shares fell the most in more than a year after the company reported slowing spending by customers grappling with a higher rate of inflation and rising interest rates.

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The two Tans, who are Malaysian and not related, founded Grab in Kuala Lumpur in 2012 and later relocated the company to Singapore. After helping to establish the firm, Tan Hooi Ling left it briefly to work at other companies in the US before rejoining Grab in April 2015. She led various operations and technology teams, and also served as a member of Grab’s board since its stock-market debut in the US in December 2021.

Grab's CEO Anthony Tan and co-founder Tan Hooi Ling gesture on stage as they attend the Grab Bell Ringing Ceremony at a hotel in Singapore, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
Grab's CEO Anthony Tan and co-founder Tan Hooi Ling gesture on stage as they attend the Grab Bell Ringing Ceremony at a hotel in Singapore, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia (Caroline Chia / reuters)

“I am an adventurer at heart, and there are many other personal passions that I have put aside to build Grab with Anthony,” Tan Hooi Ling said in the statement. “With the strong leadership bench we currently have, I believe now is the right time for me to pass on the baton.”

Grab has been building out its executive team in recent years, including hiring Alex Hungate from SATS Ltd. as operating chief to replace Tan Hooi Ling. In a memo to staff seen by Bloomberg News, CEO Tan said that a succession plan for his co-founder has been in place for some time and that he wholeheartedly supports her decision to “pursue her personal passions at this time.”

“Bringing in new people and the founders taking more of a backseat is the way to go,” said Mak Yuen Teen, a professor at the National University of Singapore, who researches corporate governance. “Anthony should consider likewise — whether he should move to a different role rather being chairman and CEO. It’s not a startup after all.”

Shares of Grab have declined more than 70% since its merger with a US blank-check company in 2021. The company has been battling intense competition in Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing and delivery markets, with the contenders luring customers with promotions and lower prices. Grab has been slower to reduce expenses than regional competitors — as Singapore’s Sea Ltd. and Indonesia’s GoTo Group eliminated thousands of jobs last year, Grab refrained from mass layoffs.

The company has predicted it can reach breakeven on an adjusted basis in the last quarter of this year. While it reported a narrower quarterly loss last week, its customers are spending less on the platform than analysts expected. In the first quarter, its net loss narrowed to US$244 million from US$423 million a year earlier.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.