Masayoshi Son has built Softbank Corp. into the world's biggest Internet holding company by leveraging some $3.8 billion into equity stakes in 300 companies including Yahoo! Inc., online financier E*Trade Group Inc., and all manner of e-commerce players in the U.S. and Asia. Son is on the prowl for more. Softbank has lined up an additional $2 billion to expand into Europe, China, and Latin America. Last month, Son and a group of investors spent nearly $1 billion to acquire nationalized Nippon Credit Bank and turn it into a lender for New Economy companies in the high-tech world.
Even though Softbank's shares have fallen 70% since mid-February, they are still up fourfold over the past 14 months. One reason is Son's strategy of placing hundreds of tiny bets on a whole range of new technologies, instead of seeking a controlling interest in a few. "On the Net everything moves so quickly, so you have to do things differently," says the 42-year-old ethnic Korean billionaire who grew up dirt-poor in southern Japan and now lives in a palatial home in central Tokyo. Son's strategy, while still unproven for the long haul, has become a model for investors around the region.