SoftBank’s Son on being a crazy guy and betting on the future
Reuters | Photo Credit: Reuters

SoftBank Group Corp chairman and managing director Masayoshi Son is a man of strong convictions and once convinced he pursues it relentlessly.

British chip designer ARM Holdings was one such pursuit for Son, which he earmarked to acquire almost a decade ago. A few months ago SoftBank finally acquired ARM Holdings for $31.4 billion. He even paid a 40% premium for the deal.

“I was dreaming of that company for ten years. I didn’t have enough money. Finally, when I got enough money, I acquired it,” Son said during a question and answer session at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Friday.

Clearly, Son had business reasons to pursue ARM. ARM, a well-known chip designer, licenses chips to companies such as Apple and Samsung. ARM-designed chips are found in almost 99% of phones and tablets. Last year alone, fifteen billion ARM-designed chips were shipped, which effectively means 2 chips per person on earth. In 20 years, ARM will ship one trillion chips.

“Its simple math – if one chip is $1, then it will be $1 trillion in 20 years,” he said.

Clearly, Son is all about making business sense and that is probably the reason why he is bullish on India and even believes he will surpass his own commitment of investing $10 billion in India in 10 years.

"I am the man who keeps his word. I am going to surpass my commitment. I have a $100 billion fund," Son said. In October, SoftBank teamed up with Saudi Arabia to create a $100 billion technology investment fund.

SoftBank had already invested over $2 billion in India, investing in companies such as Hike, Ola, Snapdeal, Grofers, OYO Rooms, and InMobi. While SoftBank invested in InMobi for the first time in 2011, it made a bang in the Indian investment industry in the second half of 2014, when it announced infusion of a whopping over $800 million in two firms – Snapdeal and Ola – within a couple of days.

“This is a country with a large population. This is a country with democracy. This is a country where many speak English, where I think new technology will happen. I am very interested in this country,” he said.

A multi-faceted man

Son holds nearly 100 patents, including a translating device. During the dotcom crash, he lost $70 billion in one day but he underplays the situation. “I lost excitement. It is sad to be too rich,” Son said, adding that when one has too much money, the simple joys of life can go away. “There is no joy in shopping. I can buy the entire store instead of one bag.”

Son believes that technology will rule our lives in coming decades. Robots with emotions and singularity (an era in which human intelligence will become more non-biological and trillions of times more powerful than what it is today) interest him immensely. Son’s SoftBank Robotics gave the world Pepper, a chatty, human-shaped robot, designed to be a genuine day-to-day companion.

Son’s 40 minute conversation at the HT Summit was peppered with several references to ‘family’ and friends’. It’s almost hard to believe that the world’s 12th wealthiest man (according to Forbes), who even toppled Bill Gates to be the richest person on earth for three days, had modest beginnings.

A son of Korean immigrants living in a shack in southwest Japan, a young Son was expected to be conscientious about money. The 10-year-old would, however, not only buy ice candy for himself but also his friends, so that he could eat without “feeling bad”. Reminiscing those days, Son told the awed audience that his grandmother would often chastise him for spending money on others. “Money will come from heaven, I would say,” Son shared, adding that his grandmother would often say he was “hopeless”.

An avid golfer, he reads news and business material online.

And he wants history to remember him as a “crazy guy who saw the future”.

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