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By Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis
May 19 Deep Nishar spends more time roaming
university hallways than he does corporate boardrooms.
A former electrical engineer who helped develop Google's
mobile phone business and grow LinkedIn's users from 30 million
to half a billion, Nishar is exactly the sort of industry
specialist that SoftBank Group Corp CEO Masayoshi Son
wants for his new $100 billion technology investment vehicle.
Son, Japan's richest man, is expected to announce on
Saturday the close of the first fundraising round for what will
be the world's biggest private equity fund. Its backers,
including Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and Apple Inc
, expect technology investments that will match or beat
the 44 percent internal rate of return that SoftBank says Son
has delivered by investing in internet companies in the last 18
With pitfalls aplenty among the valuation-rich, profit-poor
start-ups of Silicon Valley, Son is seeking to hire dealmakers
who can spot the most commercially disruptive technologies,
according to people close to him.
As he builds up the Vision Fund, Son has hired a roster of
investment bankers, including Alex Clavel, a longtime
telecommunications banker at Morgan Stanley, and
technology banker Ervin Tu of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Son is looking for industry wonks to complement those hires
and find potentially game-changing investments in areas ranging
from genomics and artificial intelligence to robots and the
The sources asked not to be identified ahead of the
conclusion of the fundraising.
Nishar, 47, is the most senior industry expert working for
SoftBank, which he joined in 2015. He sits on SoftBank's
investment committee, which includes Son, SoftBank chief
financial officer Alok Sama, SoftBank board director Ronald
Fisher, and head of the Vision Fund, Rajeev Misra. SoftBank has
yet to finalize the investment committee for the Vision Fund,
which it will manage.
Even when he was working at LinkedIn and Google, Nishar had
an interest in investing. The Indian-born engineer spent five
years tracking the business of pre-cancer detection startup
Guardant Health. He visited researchers in universities and even
showed up in doctors' offices to see which tests they prescribed
to detect cancer.
When Guardant sought to raise money in 2016, Nishar had an
inside track. He arranged a meeting between Guardant's founders
and Son at SoftBank's San Carlos office near San Francisco. Last
week, SoftBank said it would lead a $360 million fundraising
round for Guardant, with Son praising it as a potential "Rosetta
Stone" of cancer.
Guardant co-founder and CEO Helmy Eltoukhy said Nishar's
business experience and technical expertise made him stand out
from other investment professionals.
"This kind of experience, from the engineering side as well
as business side, is hard to come by," he said.
Nishar has four people on his team, which focuses on
so-called frontier technologies, such as computational biology.
He is looking to double that by the end of the year, according
to people familiar with the plans.
SoftBank also wants experts in other sectors, including
enterprise software, artificial intelligence, robotics, digital
media and financial technology, according to the sources.
Other sector specialists working for SoftBank include David
Thevenon, a former Google executive who handles ride-sharing
investments for SoftBank, such as Didi in China, Ola in India,
and Grab in Southeast Asia, and Kabir Misra, an e-commerce
specialist who is helping put together the merger of Flipkart
and Snapdeal in India.
Son is building his team as technology investing has become
increasingly competitive. Google and other technology companies
are looking to invest in the areas SoftBank is focusing on, as
are private equity and venture capital funds.
The dealmaking team SoftBank is building will also be
pivotal for 59-year-old Son's own legacy and eventual
transition, after Nikesh Arora, a former Google executive he had
named as his successor, resigned last year.
A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Son
does not subscribe to the traditional Japanese business culture
of pecking order and hierarchy, leaving plenty of scope for
people in this team to pitch investment ideas to him.
"Son is not terribly hierarchical. If you know something
more than him on a particular topic, you will get air time, he
will listen to you," said Raine Group LLC co-founder Jeff Sine,
Son's most trusted investment banking adviser, who has
participated in most of his deals.
Son is the only individual listed as "key man" for the
Vision Fund, meaning that, no matter how many dealmakers he
hires, he is responsible for all the investment decisions, and
the fund could be dissolved in his absence.
Many of the hirings happen through personal connections;
Nishar, for example, was recruited by Arora, based on their ties
going back to Google.
With so much in-house dealmaking expertise, investment
bankers who have been trying to cultivate Son's lieutenants are
fretting over whether they will be hired to work on any of the
Vision Fund's deals.
People close to Son say he will meet with all major
investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co
, but will only hire them if they bring expertise he does
not already have.
"As an investment banker, you need deep expertise in the
specific set of skills Son has hired you for to be useful,
because his team is extremely smart," said Robey Warshaw LLP
co-founder Simon Robey, an investment banker who helped SoftBank
navigate British takeover rules to clinch a $32 billion deal to
acquire chip designer ARM Holdings.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker in San Francisco and Greg
Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Dan