UPDATE 2-Groupon chair to step back, focus on venture firm

Mon Jul 2, 2012 5:21pm EDT

* Lefkofsky says recent Groupon hires allow him to step back

* Lefkofsky was Groupon's first investor, remains big shareholder

* Groupon shares extend losses after Lefkofsky blog update

By Alistair Barr

SAN FRANCISCO, July 2 (Reuters) - Groupon Inc Chairman Eric Lefkofsky said on Monday he is stepping back from hands-on, operational involvement in the world's largest daily deal company to focus more on his venture capital firm Lightbank.

Lefkofsky wrote in his personal blog that he looks forward to continuing to work with Groupon Chief Executive Andrew Mason as chairman of Groupon's board of directors.

"But in the meantime, I've immersed myself in Lightbank and am focused on growing the company," Lefkofsky wrote.

Groupon shares fell almost 11 percent to close at $9.51 on Monday. The stock was down about 8 percent earlier in the day and added to losses after Lefkofsky's update.

Lefkofsky co-founded Groupon, which was launched in November 2008, with Mason and Brad Keywell. Lefkofsky was also Groupon's first investor, remains a major shareholder and has been a mentor to the young CEO Mason.

Groupon shares fell earlier this year when Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz left the daily deal company's board.

"Lefkofsky stepping back may have a bigger impact than Schultz leaving the board," said Herman Leung, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group. "Schultz was an advisor from 10,000 feet while Eric was in the trenches."

Leung cut his price target on Groupon shares to $12 from $15 on Monday morning partly on concern about higher marketing expenses. The analyst also said the growth of the Groupon Goods business may be inflating the company's take rate, an important measure of profitability.

When Groupon started, Lefkofsky said he and Mason worked in many different roles. But the company has hired several executives in the past 18 months, allowing Lefkofsky to step back.

"When Groupon was a 'young' company, Andrew and I wore a lot of different hats. Every time we hired someone new, we gave up a hat," Lefkofsky wrote. "Given the breadth of the team today, everyone's hat is planted firmly on the right head, which has allowed me to focus on doing what I do best."

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