Son’s $50 Billion Pledge Shows His Flair for the Spotlightby
Pledge said to be from $100 billion tech fund with Saudis
President-elect says investment will create 50,000 jobs
Masayoshi Son’s well-timed meeting with Donald Trump is introducing U.S. audiences to a side of the billionaire already familiar in Japan -- a consummate showman.
His knack for spectacle was on display Tuesday as the founder of SoftBank Group Corp. posed for cameras with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York. Son had just promised a $50 billion investment in the U.S. that would create 50,000 jobs. SoftBank’s shares jumped to the highest in 15 months in Tokyo trading.
Son, who rose to global prominence when SoftBank acquired Sprint Corp. in 2013, is known overseas primarily as a savvy investor and entrepreneur. But the Japanese have long seen his dramatic side, like the time he choked up on stage remembering his difficult upbringing, with a giant black-and-white photo of his immigrant grandmother hovering in the background.
“This is Masa of SoftBank from Japan,” Trump introduced Son, both men wearing matching red ties. “He is one of the great men of industry.”
Trump said on Twitter the investment wouldn’t have happened if we wasn’t elected. The money will come from SoftBank’s $100 billion technology fund, which was announced in October before Trump’s victory, according to a person familiar with the matter. That investment vehicle has a $45 billion commitment from the government of Saudi Arabia and $25 billion from SoftBank.
Son is no stranger to grand goals, even if he hasn’t always delivered. He planned to combine Sprint, the No. 4 U.S. wireless operator, with its next rival T-Mobile US Inc. only to be thwarted by regulators. In a sign that Sprint is moving quickly to capitalize on Tuesday’s drama, Marcelo Claure, the carrier’s chief executive officer said he would join Son on the U.S. west coast for a “Very Cool” announcement on Wednesday.
Shares of Sprint rose 1.5 percent and T-Mobile climbed 1.8 percent on speculation Son’s pledges could aid an eventual deal. SoftBank gained 6.2 percent at the close of trade in Tokyo.
SoftBank’s strategy of investing in startups which employ relatively few people means Son may struggle to deliver on his job promise. The 50,000 target exceeds the combined workforce of Sprint, SoftBank’s most recent acquisition ARM Holdings Plc and its e-commerce unit Yahoo Japan Corp.
Japan’s second-richest man has a 300-year plan for his worldwide technology empire and is fond of speaking about the imminent advent of advanced artificial intelligence. Son often teams up with SoftBank’s Pepper robot for company announcements. He also likes to poke fun at his balding pate to the delight of his 2.5 million Twitter followers.
While Son is a celebrity in Japan, he has a long way to go in the U.S. Addressing local media after the meeting, Son had to explain that SoftBank is not the manufacturer of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and he is not in fact the CEO of Foxconn Technology Group, the Taiwanese company that makes the smartphones.
Asked one of the reporters: “How do you spell your name, sir?”