One of the most famous entrepreneurs in Japan is Masayoshi Son. He is a founding executive who built a business from scratch and grew it into a publicly traded company in a single generation. He is a globally renowned entrepreneur who is also active in global businesses, including the acquisition of the U.S. mobile company Sprint in 2013* and British semiconductor business Arm in 2016**. Few people know his true story. In this article, I will introduce you to the untold stories of Masayoshi Son.
You can use them as an ice-breaker before a business meeting, or you can learn about the heart and soul of the Japanese founder, which may provide tips for future business with Japanese.
*Announced the sale of Sprint to T-Mobile in June 2020
**Announced the sale of Arm to NVIDIA in September 2020
Masayoshi Son, Chairman of the SoftBank Group, is the driving force behind the Information Revolution in Japan. Without him, it would not have been possible to spread the Internet and cell phones throughout Japan as quick as it was. Born in 1957 in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu, at the western end of the Japanese archipelago, he must have been one of the people who were painfully aware of the information gap between rural areas and large cities like Tokyo.
That’s why he was able to envision the shape of the future achieved by the information and communication technologies he learned about during his high school years in the United States. And he has always been a frontrunner in opening up the world of information and communication.
The current SoftBank Group has acquired various companies, making it not only a conglomerate in the information communication and AI business, but also an investment company. It has more than 6 trillion yen in sales, 1,475 subsidiaries, 455 affiliates, and 27 jointly controlled companies (all by March 2020). The breakthrough he made after his business in the United States and founding Softbank in 1981 in Japan is well known.
He is extremely busy with his global business, and when he is in Japan, he follows a minute-by-minute schedule. The president of the business magazine for which I was working also once interviewed Mr. Son on his way to the airport in the car. If you can get 15 to 30 minutes alone with him you are really lucky.
At the Shiodome headquarters, before moving from his previous office, Mr. Son used to visit the rooms where customers were waiting for him. Not only that, he also has to deal with internal decision-making matters at the same time. How does he secure that time?
The employees put together what they want to tell Mr. Son on a piece of paper and present it to him as he moves from appointment to appointment, said one employee. It is said that Mr. Son makes decisions on the spot. Although progress in the IT industry is said to be fleeting, his decisions are also surprisingly fast.
It’s difficult for him to make time for exercising. However Mr. Son, who had a near-death experience with a serious illness when he founded the company, also paid attention to his health and sometimes wore ankle weights in his office. He was so charming and appealing.
In April 2018, Mr. Son walked up to the event organizer, an old entrepreneur (Mr. T), at the venue of the event to honor the founding business owner, and shook his hand firmly, “Congratulations today”. Mr. Son rushed over to send Mr. T. off on his retirement from the public eye at the event’s 20th anniversary. This event is not a SoftBank Group event, nor is it even a client or partner event, much less a highly publicized event.
So why did Mr. Son go to the event himself, without a representative?
It was only because Mr. Son and Mr. T had been close to each other since Soft Bank’s inception and Mr. Son promised him a great deal of support at Mr. T’s inception. It is common for people to cut off people who are not beneficial to them, even if they had a relationship with them before. However, Mr. Son is a very loyal man, and keeps his word from decades ago.
It was on the morning of the day of the event that the event management office was informed by Mr. Son’s secretary that he could participate in it. It took fifteen minutes to participate in the event, which consisted of presenting a bouquet of flowers and taking a photo, but it was still a miracle.
At the time, he was mostly outside Japan for business projects such as the U.S. cell phone company Sprint and the U.K. semiconductor design company Arm, among others. That’s why it was extremely difficult for him to keep his schedule in check while he was back in Japan. When the elevator on the event floor opened and Mr. Son walked towards the venue, the participants who had been chatting in The lobby stepped aside at once. He walked quietly down the middle of the lobby, which was open like a straight road to the venue.
After completing the scheduled program, Mr. Son suddenly agreed to speak at the podium. He sent a message praising Mr. T’s achievements and inspiring other entrepreneurs for over 20 minutes. Speaking outside of company events such as SoftBank World and earnings announcements, has become a rarity for him these days. Knowing that some entrepreneurs attended it because Mr. Son would attend, he listened to the speeches of other entrepreneurs that followed. In the end, he stayed at the venue for more than an hour and shook hands with the audience.
When leaving the venue, Mr. Son smiled while he shook hands with the staff of the event, and when he found Mr. T waiting at the exit of the building, he gave him a firm hug and left like a fresh breeze. In fact, Mr. Son was wearing a suit and no tie when he entered. When he was informed that the organizers of the awards would present him with a commemorative tie, he was willing to wear it. However, when he knew that it would be handed to him after the event, he hastily borrowed the tie from the president of the group company and went to the podium. He is a meticulous person who does not want to embarrass the event organizer.
When you achieve success, there are a lot of people who will come up to you for that reason alone. Although he has literally achieved his current success without any backing, he has been discriminated against and slandered at times because of his Korean-Japanese background. That’s why he understands and values the importance of trustworthy people, relationships, and gratitude more than anyone else. The people around him, touched by his humanity, will become fans of Mr. Son, and will strive to help him realize his vision of the world.