Automotive Tech Billionaire Austin Russell to Acquire Majority Stake in Forbes

The CEO of an automotive-technology company said he is buying a majority stake in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the business media outlet at nearly $800 million.

Austin Russell—the 28-year-old founder of Luminar Technologies, which makes sensors and software used for safety and autonomous-driving features—said he has agreed to buy an 82% stake in Forbes. His purchase includes the remaining portion of the company owned by its namesake family and brings to a close a lengthy sale process.

Mr. Russell joins the list of wealthy startup founders who have acquired news-publishing businesses in the last decade, as the media industry faces disruption from large tech platforms and grapples with the transition from print to online publishing.

Forbes’s parent company, Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media Investments, will retain a minority stake in the more than 100-year-old publisher, Mr. Russell said in a statement. The company is profitable, according to people familiar with the matter.

“Forbes is something I had always looked up to as a brand and as a media empire,” said Mr. Russell, who was once recognized by Forbes in its “30 Under 30″ feature for being a young self-made billionaire.

Mr. Russell doesn’t plan to get involved in Forbes’s news coverage, or day-to-day operations, but said he plans to focus on continuing its growth and emphasizing philanthropy within the business.

Forbes, which is known for its billionaire list and annual feature on up-and-coming business leaders under the age of 30, has become increasingly reliant on a network of contributors in recent years. It has also diversified its operations and now has an ad-supported media business, as well as an event group, an affiliate marketing unit that makes money when readers take certain actions or make purchases, and a branded ventures arm that licenses the Forbes brand.

Mr. Russell said he plans to tap a new board for Forbes consisting of American media, tech, and artificial-intelligence experts. Integrated Whale Media will keep one board seat in conjunction with its retained minority stake and Steve Forbes, who is currently chairman and editor in chief of Forbes Media, will remain involved in the company, Mr. Russell said in the statement.

The Forbes family ceded control of the company in 2014, when it sold a majority stake to Integrated Whale Media.

The current sale process began after Forbes terminated an agreement to go public through a special-purpose acquisition company last June.

Other wealthy business and tech leaders that have invested in media companies include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who acquired the Washington Post in 2013, and Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff, who acquired Time Magazine in 2018. That year, Thai business magnate Chatchaval Jiaravanon purchased Fortune, and biotech investor Patrick Soon-Shiong acquired the Los Angeles Times.