GRAB's Malaysian chief executive, Anthony Tan, has said that 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," Mr Tan declared on Friday, in a public dialogue with DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta at the DBS Asian Insights Conference.
He said that 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 investment in Grab in June 2018, in a deal that would see the two companies 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," added Mr Tan, noting that Grab took on partners such as Didi Chuxing in July 2017 and rival Uber in March 2018. 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.
"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 number one, because of volume; number two, Uber; number three, us. . . I can probably bluff you about ride-hailing, but I can't bluff these guys."
Mr Tan added: "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 that Grab has previously had to turn away "capital that wasn't strategic, didn't add value".