Masayoshi Son is elevating two SoftBank Group Corp. executives and one outsider to his inner circle, appointments that become official on Wednesday. The board is set to approve the nominations of Marcelo Claure, Rajeev Misra and Katsunori Sago as executive vice presidents. Sago will also join Misra and Claure as a board member after a shareholder vote at the general meeting in Tokyo.
The personnel changes mark the biggest overhaul in SoftBank’s top management since Son brought in Nikesh Arora from Google in 2014 and kicked off the telecom giant’s transformation into a strategic holdings company. Son has said that SoftBank’s main business is the information revolution, but his investment targets have spanned an eclectic range of endeavors, from lithium mines to insurers and soccer tournaments.
SoftBank hasn’t elaborated on the exact portfolios of the new appointees, and investors will be keen to find out how they fit into Son’s vision. “SoftBank is a very flexible organization, so you can expect their roles to evolve over time,” said Atul Goyal, an analyst at Jefferies Group. “Until we know more, the only relevance for investors is that of Masa.”
The Bolivian entrepreneur has been with SoftBank the longest. The 47-year-old was originally hired by Son when the Japanese conglomerate acquired his phone distribution company, Brightstar. Claure grew the upstart mobile-phone vendor into a $7 billion business. Claure is seen as a kindred spirit to Son, who also came from humble beginnings growing up in a Korean immigrant family on the island of Kyushu.
In 2014, Claure took over as the head of Sprint Corp. and embarked on a turnaround of the money-losing U.S. wireless operator that culminated in its pending sale to T-Mobile US Inc. He has been a SoftBank board member since last year and was named the group’s chief operating officer in May.
Misra’s ties to SoftBank date back to 2014. He was hired as head of strategic finance from alternative-asset manager Fortress Investment Group LLC, which SoftBank has since acquired. The 56-year-old cut his teeth in proprietary trading at Deutsche Bank and has been singled out as driving the lender’s controversial push into structuring and sales of exotic instruments.
He leads SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund, a technology-focused private equity effort with big backers including Saudi Arabia and Apple Inc. Misra has been a SoftBank board member since June 2017.
Sago is by far the newest and least-known addition to Son’s inner circle. Sago, a graduate of University of Tokyo’s engineering school, spent 22 years at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Japanese unit, where he became deputy president. In 2015, he joined Japan Post Bank Co., whereas a vice president he spearheaded a portfolio shift away from sovereign bonds. The 50-year-old banker will serve as SoftBank’s chief strategy officer.
Who’s the Heir?
The new appointments have also revived speculation that Son may again be on a search for a successor.
“Sago is famous in the financial circles and Misra has the Vision Fund,” said Mana Nakazora, the chief credit analyst in Tokyo at BNP Paribas. “But Claure is by far Son’s favorite. He’s got the leadership skills and knowledge about AI and IOT, and you could just sense that Son trusts him.”
The Japanese billionaire is fond of talking about his 300-year vision for SoftBank, but has said he plans to retire by his 70th birthday. Son turned 60 in August.
Arora was the closest thing Son had to an heir apparent. The former Google executive bet a huge amount of his own money on SoftBank, borrowing heavily to buy $483 million-worth of the company’s shares. He suddenly stepped down two years ago. Son said in a statement at the time that he wanted “work on a few more crazy ideas” and needed to remain as CEO for at least another five to ten years to do so.
“SoftBank is Masa, and Masa is not leaving,” said Jefferies’ Goyal.