Weeks after his billion-dollar bailout of WeWork, SoftBank Group Corp’s founder and CEO Masayoshi Son reiterated his belief in an instinct-led investing style, in a discussion with Alibaba Group Holding Inc’s co-founder Jack Ma.
Ma said Son initially tried to invest $50 million in the e-commerce firm, but that he declined saying it was too large a sum - part of a pattern of offering big cheques to company founders that continued with WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann. Son’s comments come weeks after he was forced to bail out office-sharing start-up WeWork when Neumann’s level of control over his firm and hard-partying ways chilled investor appetite and crashed plans for an initial public offering (IPO).
Son last month said he misjudged Neumann’s character, after WeWork - formally The We Company - and other sputtering bets saw his $100 billion Vision Fund report an $8.9 billion second-quarter operating loss. The conversation at Tokyo University between two of Asia’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs comes at a point of divergence in their careers, with 55-year-old Ma retiring as Alibaba’s executive chairman in September and Son pledging to spend his sixth decade at the helm of his investment juggernaut.
Domestically, SoftBank hopes to drive commercialization of the emerging field of artificial intelligence (AI), announcing on Friday it will spend 20 billion yen ($184 million) over 10 years funding an AI research institute with Tokyo University. Son “probably has the biggest guts in the world on doing investment,” Ma told attendees to the conference. “Too much guts, sometimes I lose a lot of money,” Son responded.