SoftBank Group Corp founder Masayoshi Son has stepped down from the board of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The announcement was made on Thursday. The billionaire said that his departure should not be seen as due to disagreement. "It's not like we had a fight. This was perfectly amicable," said Son during a virtual shareholder meeting. He said he was "graduating" from Alibaba's board.
It must be mentioned that Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma is also stepping down from SoftBank's board at the same time.
"With Jack serving his full term today, I will also leave as a board member of Alibaba. It's not because I have lost hope (in Alibaba) or that we had a fight or anything like that. Jack will graduate from us, so I should also graduate as an Alibaba board member. On the same day, effective today, I wished to retire from the board of Alibaba," Son said. He added "For us, Alibaba remains the largest share asset."
Son was an early investor in Alibaba and helped in the journey of the company to reach its current valuation of $600 billion. Son was on Alibaba's board when it went public in 2014 recording the largest initial public offering in history. Son had been on Alibaba's board for about 15 years, while Ma had been on SoftBank's board for 13 years.
Both Son and Ma are two of the most successful entrepreneurs of their generation. According to a report in Bloomberg, both have also relied on each other for advice for decades.
Alibaba is one of Son's most successful investments so far as well as SoftBank's most valuable asset. When Alibaba was a little-known web portal that sought to connect Chinese manufacturers with foreign buyers, Son invested $20 million in the e-commerce platform. That was in the early 2000s. Now that stake is worth more than $150 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Not only did that investment boosted Son's reputation as an investor, it also helped him raise the $100 billion Vision Fund.
However, with the recent WeWork fiasco and a string of setbacks due to companies such as Wag Labs, Zume Pizza and Brandless Inc, SoftBank has taken a beating of $18 billion. Nevertheless, Son's Thursday shareholder meeting saw him being optimistic and convinced that a global digital transformation and AI would both be accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic. He also believed that it would help in the investments in firms such as TikTok's parent company ByteDance.
SoftBank is in the process of offloading about $42 billion of assets to fund stock buybacks and slash debt to assure investors.