Son, Japan’s richest man, saw his shareholding value increase as Softbank share prices rose by 44% in the fiscal year that ended on March 31.
“Son is successful as an entrepreneur,” said Ed Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corporation in Tokyo and Portfolio Manager of Atlantis Japan Growth Fund. “He likes to do different projects — which may make no business or economic sense — because he thinks they are interesting, a challenge or it’s a good idea to do them.”
Merner added that solar power may fall into this category. “He is investing solar power into Japan and maybe wind energy, too,” he said. “Whether these are viable economically or justify pouring in such huge amounts of money I don’t think Son cares as long as they don’t lose much money or any money. As long as he thinks this is a good idea, he’ll do it.”
Softback has been gaining market share in the cellular telephone market for some time.
“Son got it from Vodaphone, who ran it very badly,” Merner said. “Son is running it much better. He’s an innovator who likes trying new things, some are good and some not good, delegates a lot and is always doing things, different projects and running around going here and there.”
He noted that some of the things Son does are ridiculous or doesn’t do them for business reasons, but because they are a lot of fun. “‘Let’s do it,’ rather than, ‘This will make a lot of money,’” Merner said. “Maybe that’s good, but if you’re a shareholder it’s not so good.”
Son also likes to delegate, according to Merner. Son has lost companies because some of those people he entrusted them to run eventually took them away from him.
Son is a major shareholder of Softbank, but does not own a majority of the shares.
“Softbank is him, although he has only 21.3%, but by far the biggest shareholder,” Merner said. “He’s very involved in the management of the company. It isn’t like some companies where you have someone running it that may be family owned or someone who is chairman or president, but not running it. Son is running Softbank. It’s a theoretical value not a real value, so I don’t think he could sell his shares, but he would sell some of his shares.”
In other words, much of the company’s growth is dependent on Son.
Meanwhile, following Son as Japan’s largest individual shareholders were Hiroshi Yamauchi, former chairman of Nintendo Co., and Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Fast Retailing Co.
Japan’s top three remains unchanged from last year, but the gap between Son and Yamauchi and Yanai grew last year.
Yamauchi’s Nintendo share price dropped by 28% in the 2010 fiscal year, while Fast Retailing shares held by Yanai fell by 35%.