Why You Can Never Underestimate Softbank’s CEO

One of the most powerful tech leaders in the world is SoftBank’s President and CEO Masayoshi Son. He and his company were in the news this week as SoftBank appointed a new president, a man who many believe will eventually be Son’s successor. The Head of SoftBank investments, Nikesh Arora, will now serve as president of SoftBank. According to Reuters, “Billionaire Son, who is relinquishing the president’s post, said the former Google Inc executive was a “strong candidate” to lead the company in future. “Yes. He’s 10 years younger than me, and he has more abilities than me,” Son told reporters, when asked if Arora was a potential candidate to succeed him. “The last nine months I’ve spent with him have made me sure of that, but I’m not going to retire soon,” Son said.

Although naming a potential successor is a signficant corporate move, the more important comment from Son is that he is not retiring soon. SoftBank is Masayoshi Son and Son is SoftBank. He is its heart and soul and the visionary that takes bold chances and, in most cases, they have paid off for him. Just after he bought Comdex in the mid 1990’s, I had the opportunity to interview him in a fireside chat setting at the Phoenix Technology conference at the Spanish Bay resort in the Del Monte forest of Monterey, CA. Besides making news with the Comdex purchase, he also stated he had a 300 year plan for the company. That set the industry abuzz for some time. I asked him about his vision and how he goes about getting the things he wants in order to grow the company. He said he saw the company growing by expanding into new businesses and he was willing to go to extremes to make SoftBank one of the most important companies in the world. I asked him to give an example of how he got things done and he gave the audience a real glimpse of how he works.

He said for two years he had gone to the director of the Japanese Telecom Ministry and told him they needed to loosen their grip on telecom regulations and make it more open to competition, but he only got pushback and resistance. Over that time, he got to know the Telecom Minister so, one day, he barged into the Minister’s office with a can of gasoline. He told the Telecom Minister if he did not listen to him and take action, he would pour the gasoline over himself and set it on fire. Well, that got the attention of the Minister in a big way and, within 9 months, this government agency began to loosen its rules on competition. Soon after, SoftBank entered the Japanese telecom market and now they are one of the largest telecom providers in Japan.

Although he did not have to do anything radical when he was trying to buy Sprint, the deal was huge and shows Mr. Son is willing to place very big bets. SoftBank has invested $250 million in Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment and $600 million in Travice, Inc, the operator of Chinese taxi hailing app Kuaidi Dache. Softbank plans to invest $10 billion in India’s online retail market and they are also the largest investor in e-commerce group Alibaba Holding Company.

I have met with Mr. Son a couple of times over the years and continue to be impressed with his forward thinking visions and his willingness to go to extremes when needed to grow his company. I am not sure many people would employ the gas can approach to get what they wanted but, in this case, it worked. What I find most amazing about Mr. Son is he is such a visionary. While his 300 year plan is perhaps a stretch, he and his top leadership team are strategic visionaries and the companies he buys or invests in fit the master plan he envisions for the future of SoftBank. They are all part of a broader puzzle that extends many years into the future and, while some of his investments do not work, most do and he is not afraid of placing large bets if these companies or technologies can help him achieve his master plan for SoftBank.

I have learned to never underestimate three business leaders in my life. One was Bill Gates. Another was Steve Jobs and the third is Mayaoshi Son. All three have had wins and losses in their lives but their wins have been spectacular. Gates has shifted his big bets to philanthropic causes but Mayaoshi Son has focused on making SoftBank one of the largest companies in the world. I have no doubt he is on the road to achieving it.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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