SoftBank or SoftBankrupt? Masa Son says his rescue plan is working

“It made a lot of people worry,” Son said Thursday, referring to how badly the Japanese conglomerate was hammered during the last fiscal year. SoftBank reported an annual operating loss of 1.36 trillion yen ($12.7 billion) — its worst ever — because of a series of tech bets gone bad and the coronavirus pandemic.

Son’s tone Thursday during an online meeting of SoftBank shareholders was more upbeat than last month when he reported the company’s record-breaking losses. He added that people thought the company was “Softpunku,” using wordplay in Japanese that can translate roughly to “SoftBankrupt” in English.

Within the last few months, SoftBank has taken dramatic measures to shore up its finances, including a plan to sell $41 billion in assets to buy back shares and reduce the company’s heavy debt load. So far, Son said, the company has completed 80% of the asset sales it intends to make, though he did not elaborate on the remaining portion. Earlier this week, SoftBank confirmed that it was offloading roughly $20 billion worth of stock in T-Mobile.

Son said Thursday that things are looking up: The value of SoftBank’s holdings rose to 30 trillion yen ($280 billion) this week, about 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) higher than at the end of March.

The billionaire also defended the high pay of executives at his company, including Vision Fund chief Rajeev Misra. Misra earned 1.61 billion yen ($15 million) in total compensation for the fiscal year that ended in March, more than double his pay a year earlier, SoftBank said in a regulatory filing late last month.
“The responsibility is all mine,” Son said of his company’s financial performance, adding that his deputies were “opposed to investing” in troubled coworking startup WeWork from the beginning. WeWork tried and failed to pull off a public offering last year, and required a bailout from SoftBank. The conglomerate has since walked away from a chunk of that rescue package.

“I pushed though and that is my responsibility. I should take a paycut,” Son said. “Judgment for my other executives should be made comprehensively.” Son earned 209 million yen ($1.9 million) for the last fiscal year, a 9% pay cut compared to the previous year. He said he would take a 50% pay cut this year to 100 million yen.

Son on Thursday also said he was leaving Alibaba’s (BABA) board of directors in yet another break from the company that cemented the Japanese billionaire’s status as a tech visionary.
He added that the decision was amicable and coincided with Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s departure from SoftBank’s board. SoftBank announced last month that Ma would leave.

“We will remain as a long-term investor in Alibaba,” Son said.

The Chinese e-commerce company is the crown jewel of SoftBank’s investment portfolio, and Son’s ascent with Ma has been legendary. Son invested $20 million in Alibaba 20 years ago, turning that bet into one that was worth $60 billion when Alibaba went public in 2014. Son has referred to Ma as a “friend and comrade,” and said last month that the two had dinner every month before the coronavirus pandemic to talk about life and business.

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