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Sideways: SoftBank's Son – the emperor’s new techno clothes

Outsiders struggling to make sense of the investing tactics of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son can take some comfort: his own directors often seem just as puzzled.


A recent news report quoted SoftBank board directors past and present admitting that they are confused by Son’s reasons for taking stakes and, in particular, by the valuations he is willing to pay for untested business ventures.

Son certainly likes to go with his gut – almost literally with a decision made after a 30-minute pitch to invest $200 million in a San Francisco startup with plans to grow vegetables indoors, for example.

He is not alone in letting a memorable anecdote affect a big business decision. When Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts unveiled a £22.1 billion bid for Sky at the end of February, he mentioned a conversation he had with a London cab driver about the superiority of Sky service to Virgin Media as one reason for his move.

Roberts’ comment may have been tongue-in-cheek as there are other motivating factors for a bid, not least the delivery of a blow to the planned sale by Rupert Murdoch of much of 21st Century Fox to Disney. 

But independent shareholders in Sky will have reason to thank the London cab driver if the result is a much higher price for their stock than they would have obtained from Murdoch’s original plan to buy them out.