SoftBank's CEO Focuses on Tech As Sprint Gains -- WSJ

By Mayumi Negishi Features Dow Jones Newswires

SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said Wednesday he is preparing to shift his focus from turning around U.S. wireless unit Sprint Corp. to running a $100 billion technology-investment fund.

Continue Reading Below

Cost cuts have helped reduce losses at Sprint, the No. 4 mobile carrier in the U.S. With its operating profit rising, more of the day-to-day operations will be entrusted to Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, Mr. Son said, but he added that he wanted to get involved personally in planned talks with T-Mobile US Inc. on industry consolidation.

SoftBank, whose empire spans full or partial stakes in hundreds of companies including British chip architect ARM Holdings PLC, China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Yahoo Japan Corp., is roiling the global investment community with a plan to bet billions of dollars on tech companies.

"I haven't accomplished anything I can be proud of in my 60 years on Earth," the 59-year-old Mr. Son told reporters and investors. "This is my chance."

The investment fund is nearly ready for its official launch, he said. A person involved in the negotiations said that could come as early as next week.

Mr. Son is tracking what he says will be a "gold rush" into technologies for an age when artificial intelligence exceeds human capabilities. He says ownership of ARM, whose chip architecture is used in almost all of the world's smartphones, will help him predict which technologies win.

Continue Reading Below

That argument drew a pledge to invest $45 billion from Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as well as investments from Abu Dhabi investor Mubadala Development Co., Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Foxconn Technology Group and Oracle Corp. Chairman Larry Ellison, according to people familiar with the matter. SoftBank has said it would contribute $25 billion.

SoftBank and investment teams in London and San Francisco have already lined up deals for the fund. The list includes satellite operators Intelsat SA and OneWeb Ltd., New York-based shared-office-space company WeWork Cos., Indian mobile-payment company Paytm, and a 25% stake in ARM that would be purchased from SoftBank, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deal related to automotive technology is also in the pipeline, Mr. Son said.

While Mr. Son said he planned to devote much of his time to the fund, leaving SoftBank's core businesses to deputies, he said would take charge of U.S. negotiations seeking ways to combine resources at Sprint with those of other carriers to meet rising network costs.

A meeting between Mr. Son and U.S. President Donald Trump in December raised speculation that Mr. Son could revive plans to merge Sprint and T-Mobile US, which he abandoned after opposition from antitrust regulators under the Obama administration.

"T-Mobile is the most likely partner, but we will keep an open mind," Mr. Son said. "The negotiations start now."

Write to Mayumi Negishi at mayumi.negishi@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 11, 2017 02:48 ET (06:48 GMT)