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Is SoftBank the next Berkshire Hathaway?

Assif Shameen
Assif Shameen 11/27/2017 08:00 AM GMT+08  • 10 min read
Is SoftBank the next Berkshire Hathaway?
(Nov 27): In February 2000, Masayoshi Son briefly became the richest man in the world, overtaking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Two days later, as the stock price of his Tokyo-listed flagship SoftBank Group slipped, he lost the title. “It was the bri
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(Nov 27): In February 2000, Masayoshi Son briefly became the richest man in the world, overtaking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Two days later, as the stock price of his Tokyo-listed flagship SoftBank Group slipped, he lost the title. “It was the briefest period anyone has spent being the richest man in the world,” Son recounted in a TV interview a few years ago. Within 12 months of his stint at the top, SoftBank shares had plunged 99% and Son was struggling to keep himself, and his company, afloat.

Yet, Son never had any doubt that he and SoftBank would survive to fight another day. He extricated himself from his brush with near bankruptcy by agreeing to sell a Japanese joint venture with networking gear giant Cisco Systems back to the American firm, which provided him with the lifeline to crawl back from oblivion, invest in a Chinese e-commerce startup called Alibaba Group Holding and resurrect his dream of becoming the King of the Internet again.

Now, the mercurial Son is back, peddling his audacious “300-year” corporate plan, first unveiled in 2010, to invest in 5,000 cutting-edge tech-savvy companies by 2040 to conquer the future. A key plank of that strategy is the Vision Fund, to which the governments of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, and the CEOs of Apple, Qualcomm, Foxconn Technology Co and Sharp have contributed to place big technology bets. Last week, SoftBank confirmed that it had reached an agreement to invest US$10 billion ($13.5 billion) in ride-hailing giant Uber, through a US$1 billion cash injection and share purchases from existing shareholders, giving it a 17% stake. Goldman Sachs estimates app-based ride hailing will grow from US$36 billion in 2016 into a global industry worth US$285 billion in 2030.

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