After 13 years, Alibaba founder Jack Ma steps down from the board of SoftBank, the latest in a string of high-profile departures from the Japanese technology group heading for a historic loss.
Ma’s resignation follows the exit of vocal opponents of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son, Tadashi Yanai, chief executive of Uniqlo. At its annual general meeting on June 25, SoftBank will propose three new appointments to the board including group chief financial officer Yoshimoto Goto. The number of members of the board will increase to 13.
SoftBank is expected to report an annual operating loss of $12.5 billion — its largest ever — when it releases results later on Monday, as the coronavirus outbreak-induced market turmoil wreaked havoc on some of the biggest bets made by its Saudi-backed technology fund. SoftBank shares rose briefly 3 percent as the company said it intended to buy back as much as 500bn yen ($4.7bn) of its stock by March 2021, in the first tranche of a March 2 trillion yen share buyback announced.
Ma and Son are close friends and have been business partners since SoftBank ‘s founder made his most successful Alibaba investment in 2000. But the two Asian billionaires took separate paths, with Mr. Ma retiring as Chinese e-commerce group’s executive chairman in September to focus on philanthropic education projects.
In a panel discussion with Son in December that included discussion of the Vision Fund, Ma warned that “too much money” inevitably leads to “lots of mistakes.” SoftBank said Ma had asked “financial reasons” to resign. Alibaba could not be contacted immediately for comment. Nidec founder Shigenobu Nagamori has stepped down beside Yanai from SoftBank’s board three years ago.
Power struggles within the Vision Fund also led to the departure of Mark Schwartz, the longtime independent director of the organization, leaving. SoftBank said it would add two new non-executive directors to its board on Monday: Lip-Bu Tan, founder of Walden International, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund and chief executive of Cadence Design Systems, and Yuko Kawamoto, a professor at Waseda Business School. Some analysts, however, have expressed reservations regarding the changes.
In late April, SoftBank bought back more than 250 billion yen of its shares. It has pledged to sell or monetize $41 billion of assets to raise cash, with its stake in Alibaba-the most valuable asset in the portfolio-seen as a probable target.
“We question whether these members could challenge Son enough to ensure good governance,” Lightstream Research analyst Mio Kato wrote in a note on the Smarkarma research platform. SoftBank ‘s stock has climbed 74 percent since it plunged to a four-year low of 2.687 yen on March 19, a sell-off that prompted Mr. Son to unveil plans to sell $41bn of assets to reduce debt and launch the share buyback.
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