Edith Cooper, one of the most powerful black women on Wall Street, is joining the board of Slack Technologies Inc. Her appointment is one of several recent changes the corporate-software startup has made to run itself more like a public company.
Cooper, who resigned last year as head of human resources at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., is Slack’s second independent board member. She’s also the second woman. Sarah Friar, chief financial officer at Square Inc., joined the board of the San Francisco company in the spring. Last week, Slack named its first chief financial officer: Allen Shim, who had previously been the company’s senior vice president of finance.
All of these moves have the whiff of a company preparing to go public. Directors without employee or investment connections to a business are typically seen as arbiters of strong corporate governance and looked kindly upon by public investors.
Slack Chief Executive Officer Stewart Butterfield said that while an initial public offering is “the most likely outcome for us,” the company doesn’t have concrete plans. For now, Slack just wants to emulate the high standards of a public company, he said. “Adding directors is something you’d do in advance of an IPO but also if you care about the governance of the company.”
Cooper’s experience in human resources will be particularly valuable, Butterfield said, given that Slack grew to 1,000 employees in just a few years and needs to make sure they’re working well together. “We can have super smart engineers and great business development—the contribution of the individual obviously matters—but the performance of the organization matters so much more,” he said.
Slack said last year it has 6 million people who use the service every day to chat with colleagues, 2 million of whom pay to use the service or get it through their employers. The company has raised almost $600 million in funding, including a big chunk that came in September in a round led by SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund. It valued the business at $5 billion.
Last year, technology companies including Amazon.com Inc. approached Slack to inquire about a potential takeover, people familiar with knowledge of the talks said at the time. Butterfield has mostly avoided making statements about when the company might go public or sell, beyond suggesting it won’t be anytime soon. “I’m not trying to be coy,” Butterfield said. “We haven’t started a process. The private capital markets have been pretty amazing. There’s no reason to do it from a capital-raising perspective.”
Butterfield acknowledged that employees won’t be willing to wait forever. Uber Technologies Inc. and WeWork Cos. used investments from SoftBank in recent months to allow some staff to cash out stock. Slack has made similar arrangements in the past for employees and early investors, Butterfield said.