Former Grab CTO Sues Ride-Hailing Service in Rare Public Tussle

  • Ex-Facebook engineer is disputing number of shares he's owed
  • Southeast Asian startup was last valued at over $1 billion

GrabTaxi Holdings Pte, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing service, was sued by a former chief technology officer who said it failed to grant him stock he was entitled to upon his exit.

The lawsuit marks a rare legal dispute between a senior ex-employee and one of the biggest venture-backed startups in the region’s nascent technology industry. Zhu Wei, a former Facebook Inc. engineer, worked at the company now known as Grab between August 2014 and July 2015. Zhu said he’s contractually entitled to 1.125 percent of the firm’s outstanding stock, equivalent to 22,566 shares, according to a lawsuit filed in February in the Singapore High Court.

Grab disputed Zhu’s stock award in a defense filed March 11, saying that the issue of shares is subject to the rules of the firm’s share option plan. The company also said its number of outstanding shares was less than what was stated in his terms of employment, and thus Zhu’s entitlement was “considerably lower than 22,566 shares.” A closed hearing was held on Thursday. A Grab spokeswoman declined to comment.

“Even though I was denied my shares, I am rightfully a pretty significant individual shareholder in the company,” Zhu said. “It is in my best interest to see the company succeed.”

Share grants typically make up a significant chunk of startup employees’ compensation. The awards are intended to attract talented employees keen on participating in rapid growth, while helping lower upfront salaries. Disputes over share awards however have been rare among Southeast Asian startups, which have only in recent years begun to dole out stock as compensation.

Grab, whose investors include GGV Capital, was valued at $1.5 billion in December 2014, according to CB Insights.

The case is Zhu Wei v GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd., S156/2016. Singapore High Court.

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