Uber agreed to sell its Southeast Asia business in March, but it isn’t leaving the region. In fact, the U.S. firm is doubling down with plans to more than double its staff in Singapore.
That’s right. Uber is currently in the midst of a major recruitment drive that will see Singapore, the first city it expanded to in Asia, remain its headquarters for the Asia Pacific region despite its local exit. Unfortunately for customers who miss having a strong alternative to Grab, Uber won’t be bringing its ride-hailing app back in Singapore or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
Uber’s own job portal lists 19 open roles for Singapore, but the company has contacted headhunting and recruitment firms to help fill as many as 75 vacancies, three sources with knowledge of Uber’s hiring plans told TechCrunch.
The new hires will take Uber’s headcount in Singapore to well over 100 employees, the sources claimed.
Ironically, of course, Uber let most of its staff in Southeast Asia leave when it stopped serving customers across its eight markets in Southeast Asia in April — although it was forced to extend into May in Singapore. As part of its exit deal, Grab got first dibs on 500 or so Uber Southeast Asia staff but that strategy didn’t pan out as planned, as TechCrunch previously reported. Indeed, a recent report suggested that fewer than 10 percent of ‘Uberites’ moved over to become ‘Grabbers’.
And yet, here we are, Uber is aggressively hiring in Singapore — but why?
The original plan following the Grab deal was for Uber to relocate its regional headquarters to either Japan or Hong Kong, two sources told TechCrunch, but in recent months that strategy has shifted. Just weeks ago, the remaining Singapore Uber collective — which consists of managers and executives — secured budget to staff up and find a larger office in the name of creating a support team for its remaining Asia Pacific markets.
The plan is for the Singapore-based employees to provide services such as HR, accounting, admin, marketing and PR across Uber APAC, which includes Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and India — although the latter has more sovereignty with its own president who reports into the U.S..
An Uber spokesperson acknowledged that the company is in the process of hiring in Singapore, but declined to provide further details.
Sources with knowledge of discussions inside the company told TechCrunch that the decision to stay in Singapore is down to a number of reasons.
Hong Kong, which had been a frontrunner to become Uber’s new APAC HQ, was ruled out because Uber’s legal status in the country is unclear — a number of drivers have been prosecuted — while Japan and Australia were deemed to be too remote to be regional hubs. That left Singapore, as an established city for business with an existing Uber staff, as the remaining option.
Sources also told TechCrunch, however, that a degree of self-service was involved. Those executives and managers who managed to remove themselves from the “shame” of being shipped to Grab dug their heels in to avoid relocating their lives and families elsewhere, two sources claimed.
Talking to TechCrunch, some former Uber staff questioned whether the remaining Asian markets require remote services from Singapore, which is one of the world’s most expensive cities. Together the countries are hardly huge revenue generators for Uber and could be handled locally or other global cities. There’s certainly an argument that the continued investment in Singapore is at odds with the widely-held theory that Uber left Southeast Asia, a money-losing market, to clean up its balance sheet ahead of a much-anticipated IPO next year.
One former Uber employee who did transition to Grab noticed that the U.S. firm is now hiring for their previous role. That situation is made worse by a ban that prevented Uber’s Southeast Asia employees from applying to transfer to other parts of the firm’s global business. That’s despite many being allowed to do so in the case of previous Uber exit deals in China and Russia.
The result is that Uber is hiring in Singapore, a market where it no longer offers its service and gave up most of its staff to its rival. Anything can happen in the ride-sharing space!