June 19, 2019 / 2:12 AM / 6 months ago

Most SoftBank Vision Fund investors want to join second fund - CEO Son

TOKYO (Reuters) - Most investors in SoftBank Group Corp’s $100 billion (£79.6 billion) Vision Fund want to join the group’s forthcoming second fund, and discussions with those investors will begin soon, SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A journalist raises her hand to ask a question to Japan's SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The comment came at the Japanese group’s first annual general meeting since it listed telecommunications firm SoftBank Corp in December, in a move widely considered as completing its transformation into a tech-focused investor.

Reflecting that shift, Son said he wants to be the conductor in an artificial intelligence-driven technological revolution.

“The conductor doesn’t play anything but actually he plays everything,” he told investors on Wednesday.

With the first Vision Fund having spent much of its capital in its two years of life, Son in May said a second fund would launch “soon” even if SoftBank was initially the only investor.

Investors in the first fund include the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, U.S. tech giant Apple Inc and Taiwanese electronic device assembler Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd.

The Vision Fund has pumped money into late-stage startups worldwide such as U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc and shared office space firm, The We Company.

It has become SoftBank Group’s biggest driver of profit growth, with much of its investment gains unrealised and driven by upward valuations of its portfolio companies. To extend the investment spree, the group needs more funds.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Son said the fund’s headcount would eventually reach 1,000 from 400, and the fund’s head, Rajeev Misra, said the number of portfolio firms would rise to 100-150 in a year or two from around 80 at present.

Internet firms now dominate rankings of the world’s largest companies but have transformed just two industries, advertising and retail, which make up only a small part of the economy, Son said.

While SoftBank has invested in those industries in less mature markets - in, for example, South Korean e-commerce firm Coupang and Indonesian peer Tokopedia - its tech bets have been focused on startups looking to disrupt other industries like insurance, healthcare and transport.

Portfolio companies Uber and Didi Chuxing, for instance, control 90% of the ride-hailing industry globally.

Outside the meeting venue in Tokyo, Japan’s taxi lobby protested Son’s support for ride-hailing, though the industry remains strictly regulated domestically.

Inside, the atmosphere was more cordial. One shareholder asked Son to take care of his health, another expressed concern over the number of injuries at the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks baseball team, and a father said he had taken his son to SoftBank’s headquarters in the hope of glimpsing the founder.

Son harkened back to the founders of major corporations like Panasonic Corp, Honda Motor Co Ltd and Sony Corp, which he said blustered with big promises and vitalised Japan’s economy.

That attitude is now lacking in “withdrawn” Japan, Son said.

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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