Harvard Pedigrees Opened the Door to World’s Biggest SPAC Deal

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A few years after launching Grab Holdings Inc. in 2012, Anthony Tan got a piece of advice from Jack Ma. The co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. told the entrepreneur that life is a tsunami. When you’re up on the wave, get ready for the crash, he said.

In 2020, that all came to pass. The coronavirus sent cities across Southeast Asia into lockdown. Demand for ride-hailing, a key business, plunged. Then around December, its big plan to merge with arch rival Gojek collapsed.

Tan wasn’t ready to give up on going public. Early this year, a connection introduced him to the Silicon Valley investor Brad Gerstner, the founder of Altimeter Capital Management. The two men, though from opposite sides of the world, had a lot in common. Both were Harvard Business School alumni, and both had eschewed easier paths in life to set up their own firms.

Within about three months, the pair had announced the world’s biggest SPAC deal, which will see Grab list in the U.S. at a valuation of almost $40 billion.