Airbnb’s Wall Street-tested CFO has checked out, throwing the company’s IPO plans into doubt

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Wall Street veteran Laurence Tosi is leaving his role as chief financial officer at Airbnb, casting doubt on the company’s timeline for an initial public offering.

The departure, announced by Airbnb today (Feb. 1), comes one week after tech news site The Information reported (paywall) on tensions between Tosi and Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky. Airbnb said today that it had promoted Belinda Johnson, its general counsel and then head of legal and business affairs, to chief operating officer, a role Tosi had reportedly angled for himself. Bloomberg reported that Tosi learned of Johnson’s promotion on Jan. 29, and told Chesky he would leave Airbnb that night.

Tosi, who was CFO at Blackstone Group before joining Airbnb in 2015, had pushed Airbnb to become more like a traditional travel firm and wanted more say over its core “homes” business. Chesky has historically overseen that business and preferred the company stick with unique, millennial-friendly products (see: “experiences“). They reportedly clashed over whether Airbnb should launch its own airline, an idea floated by Chesky.

According to The Information, the backdrop for those tensions was Airbnb’s eventual IPO:

[F]undamentally, the two differ over how to balance the financial stability needed to go public with Mr. Chesky’s desire to transform Airbnb into a more diversified travel firm, investing in areas that might not yield profits for awhile, people close to the company say.

Tosi also reportedly had a level of sway with investors that may have made Chesky uncomfortable:

Investors are generally pleased with Mr. Tosi’s moves getting Airbnb ready for a potential 2019 public offering, when the company’s 10-year employee stock grant expires. The company now regularly reports financial performance data to investors and closes the books on time, an investor said. The CFO also would be in an important position to sell the company’s vision to potential public shareholders.

Airbnb’s IPO has been rumored to happen “next year” for at least the last five years. The company was last valued at $31 billion and has been profitable since 2017, a notable contrast to Uber. In a statement, Chesky said Airbnb would not being going public this year.

“I know people will ask what these changes mean for a potential IPO,” he said. “Let me address this directly. We are not going public in 2018. Our primary focus is becoming a 21st-century company and advancing our mission. We’re working on getting ready to go public and we will make decisions about going public on our own timetable.”

Tosi’s departure is the latest executive shakeup at Airbnb, which also lost the head of its China business and its chief marketing officer in the last six months. Last week, Chesky appointed Ken Chenault, departing CEO of American Express, as Airbnb’s first independent board member and announced plans for Airbnb’s first annual stakeholder report.