Investors Fret Over Khashoggi Killing but Still Maintain Saudi Ties

Virgin founder Richard Branson announced he was pulling out of talks on a $1 billion deal with Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Washington Post columnist. State involvement in the killing, “if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Mr. Branson said.

Days later in a text message, Mr. Branson counseled the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to release female activists his country had imprisoned.

“If you were to pardon these women and a number of men too, it would show the world the Government is truly moving into the 21stCentury,” Mr. Branson texted the crown prince. “It won’t change what happened in Turkey but it would go a long way to start and change people’s view.”

Mr. Branson was one of the first in a parade of CEOs, fund managers and bankers who scrambled to figure out how to preserve their relationships with Prince Mohammed after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul embassy in the fall.

Mr. Branson urged Prince Mohammed to change his ways. Others adopted a dual strategy of public condemnation while trying to continue to do business as usual. Some shunned the formality of Saudi Arabia’s high-profile investment conference but pursued informal gatherings instead.

The reason: Many have tied their companies’ future to Saudi money and Crown Prince Mohammed’s wide-ranging economic overhauls.

This whole Khashoggi thing doesn’t mean anything,” said hedge-fund manager John Burbank, who has been one of the U.S.’s most prominent investors in Saudi stocks. “It means much less than the big, sweeping liberalization that’s happening in the kingdom.”

MBS, as Prince Mohammed is known, politely thanked Mr. Branson for his input. A few days later, the crown prince publicly denied involvement in the murder, calling it a heinous crime. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has since concluded that he likely ordered the killing.

American investors in Saudi stocks, besides Mr. Burbank, include Peter Thiel and hedge fund Bienville Capital Management, among others. Roughly 4% of the total Saudi market is held by foreigners.

One person’s life doesn’t matter unless it’s MBS’s,” Mr. Burbank says. “Khashoggi doesn’t matter.” He adds that investors who have steered away from Saudi Arabia are hypocrites, because some of them also invest in Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Burbank was among the dozens of Western executives and investors who showed up at the home of Yasir al Rumayyan—chairman of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, which the crown prince oversees—on the eve of the investor conference in October. Over platters piled high with roast lamb, towers of sweets in golden birdcages and champagne flutes of fruit juice, they toasted their relationship beneath palm trees tinted by purple spotlights, attendees said.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son backed out of the conference, but he still showed up at the lamb feast. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also pulled out of the conference, but Uber co-founder and board member Travis Kalanick was at the party, along with former congressman and current banker Eric Cantor and his boss, banker Ken Moelis, and venture capitalist Jim Breyer. Thiel Capital portfolio manager John MacMahon also appeared at the dinner, and the chief executive of Silicon Valley construction startup Katerra, Michael Marks, attended the investment conference.

Matt Barnard, the CEO of Plenty—an indoor-farming startup with $200 million in backing from a Saudi-backed SoftBank fund—flew to Saudi Arabia for the conference. But he returned home without attending, a Plenty spokeswoman says.

The cost of shunning Saudi Arabia could be high. Some business partners fear losing access to the kingdom in the future if they pull out of Saudi deals now.

Ari Emanuel, the CEO of Hollywood talent agency Endeavor, is negotiating to return a $400 million investment that the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund made in his company earlier this year, people familiar with the company’s plan say.

In the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mr. Emanuel said he was “really concerned about it.”

.. “Were there mistakes made? Absolutely there were mistakes made,” said Matt Michelsen, an associate of John Burbank and a Silicon Valley investor. “But this place is changing. I saw Starbucks opening on multiple corners. There are women walking around without abayas. It’s a fundamental shift that’s occurred.”

The Real Cost of Keeping Les Moonves

Leslie Moonves is a rainmaker and a kingmaker. As the chief executive of CBS, he transformed the television network from last place to most watched. He’s made careers, and he has made a fortune, for himself and for his employer. And that’s probably why the CBS board decided to let him keep his job despite allegations ..

..  When employers receive sexual harassment complaints, they most often try to keep them quiet or retaliate against the victim. They’re afraid that losing their stars will dim the company’s prospects.

.. But corporate boards and managers need to wake up to the reality that sexual harassers, no matter how important they seem, do incredible harm to their companies. They desiccate a culture, draining employees’ motivation. They push qualified employees to leave. And they make their companies vulnerable to a backlash when the problems eventually come to light. It’s stupid, financially, to keep those men around.

.. A study from Harvard Business School looked at the impact of “toxic workers” — those whose behavior harms employees and companies — using data on more than 58,000 employees, from 11 different companies. It found that keeping such a worker, even one who is so productive that a company would have to hire more people to make up for letting him go, was an unwise wager. One toxic worker costs a company about $12,500 in employee turnover alone, yet on average added only about $5,300 to the business. And that doesn’t account for productivity losses or litigation fees.

.. The price for victims of harassment is clear. In a study by three sociologists of survey and interview data of employed women in Minnesota, 80 percent of those who reported experiencing harassment said they had changed jobs two years later, and many also reported “greater financial stress.”

.. That turnover costs companies, too. It’s expensive to recruit and train new employees: Replacing someone costs, on average, nearly $7,000 at an American company, according to research by Deloitte.

.. for those directly affected and for their co-workers. A 2007 review of research by two psychologists and a business school professor found that the most common reaction to experiencing harassment is to withdraw from work, neglecting tasks or simply calling in sick. An employer shoulders that burden, too. The reduction in productivity has been found to cost $22,500, on average, for each person affected by sexual harassment.

.. CBS appears to be a case study in how behavior at the top of a company can trickle down.
.. The biggest predictor of harassment in the workplace, according to a landmark report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, is a toxic culture
.. Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of Uber last June after a series of scandals involving accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination, but he has bought a controlling stake in another company and again assumed the position of chief executive.

Uber Feared It Fell Behind in Driverless-Car Technology, Kalanick Testifies

Ex-CEO is highlight of second day of trial in which Google’s parent alleges Uber stole trade secrets

.. Mr. Levandowski previously has indicated he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Mr. Kalanick has denied any theft in depositions.

.. Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven showed December 2015 meeting notes from former Uber executive John Bares, then the head of the self-driving program, in which Mr. Kalanick appeared to be singularly focused on lidar, as well as intellectual property.

.. Mr. Bares said the company was burning through about $20 million a month trying to develop reliable autonomous vehicles. Relying on Mr. Levandowski’s assistance would help pare the costs by speeding up development

.. Kalanick’s goal of getting 100,000 driverless cars on the road by 2020

.. Autonomous vehicles are essential to Uber’s business, Mr. Bares said, given human drivers account for 70% to 80% of the cost of operating a vehicle in ride-hailing.

.. Still, he acknowledged Google was and remains the leader in self-driving vehicle technology. “That’s the general perception right now,” he said.

Judge Tells Uber Lawyer: ‘It Looks Like You Covered This Up’

The last-minute evidence quickly mounted. A letter and an email full of damning claims. Apps that sent self-destructing messages. A payment of $4.5 million to an employee who threatened to be a whistle-blower — and an additional $3 million to his lawyer.

.. On Wednesday, Judge Alsup continued to upbraid Uber’s lawyers for not being more forthcoming with evidence. “I have never seen a case where there were so many bad things done like Uber has done in this case,” he said.

.. The letter that caused the trial to be delayed was written by a lawyer for Richard Jacobs, a former employee in Uber’s security team, to Angela Padilla, the company’s deputy general counsel. Thirty-seven pages long, it detailed a list of questionable behavior at Uber, including spying on competitors and using special laptop computers and self-destructing messaging apps that would hide communications.

.. On Wednesday, Ms. Padilla testified that the letter, which has not been made public in its entirety, was “clearly extortionist” and filled with “fantastical” information.

.. Mr. Jacobs responded, Ms. Padilla said, by sending an email to Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive at the time, and others complaining of criminal and unethical behavior inside Uber.

That email to Mr. Kalanick also didn’t surface in the long evidence discovery process between Waymo and Uber lawyers, and was presented in court for the first time on Wednesday.

.. Judge Alsup said to Ms. Padilla that “on the surface, it looks like you covered this up” and tried to keep the letter out of the hands of Waymo’s lawyers.

.. The company did share the letter from Mr. Jacobs’s lawyer with three different United States attorney offices, because Mr. Jacobs had threatened to take his claims to federal prosecutors and Uber wanted to “take the air out of his extortionist balloon,” Ms. Padilla testified.

.. Mr. Jacobs received $2 million up front and was to receive $1 million spread over 12 months and $1.5 million in stock, also spread out over 12 months. The deal included a so-called clawback measure that would require him to return the money if he discussed his claims with outsiders
.. Judge Alsup questioned why Uber would pay so much to an employee making bogus claims. “To someone like me, an ordinary mortal, and to ordinary mortals out there in the audience — people don’t pay that kind of money for B.S.,” the judge said.
.. A Waymo spokesman, Johnny Luu, said in a statement: “Today’s revelations fit Uber’s pattern of destroying and withholding reams of evidence relevant to our trade secrets case, and that those at the very top of Uber were aware of these inexcusable practices. We look forward to the additional discovery granted by the court and to presenting our case in front of a jury at trial.”