Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles What is SoftBank? A really difficult question to answer these days. A telecoms group. It's a semiconductor group. It's now more of an investment group. A huge and very aggressive hedge fund. It is the corporate expression of one man. A journey for people to ride alongside the mind of Masayoshi Son. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. Right at the centre of it you've got Masayoshi Son. The 63-year-old founder of SoftBank. He's like no other chief executive in Japan. He is not afraid of taking risks. He's a risk-addicted billionaire. He's not afraid to make extremely aggressive bets. If we were in a casino, he'd be the guy doubling down every time he wins with his money. If he's on the blackjack table, just double down, double down, double down. He never takes the chips off the table and he just let it ride as far as he can go. He's exploring ways to become rich, exploring ways to change the world. He identified technology as the way to do that. In the next 10 years I would continue to invest more and more. He's driven by power, the desire to make SoftBank one of the world's biggest companies. He's not really into inventing things. So it's not like SoftBank creates products. He's more investing in vision. If you go in the room and ask for $100m and he says, well, I was going to give you $500m, so why do you only need $100m? If you don't have a good answer for the $500m, you're not getting the money. He gets frustrated with us journalists. He gets frustrated with investors who don't value his company as highly as he thinks it should be valued. He's small, like, physically small, and he's calm. What lies beneath is this vigorous shark. Masayoshi Son is born and raised in Japan. He left Japan to study in the US. He came back to Japan using the money from a patent that he sold of an electronic translator. He set up SoftBank in 1981 as a software distributor. His breakthrough deal came in 2000 when he invested $20m in Alibaba, just a year after the Chinese company was created. To turn $20m into $100bn and more, that doesn't happen. You know, even the best venture capitalists in the world who put a sliver of money in Airbnb or a sliver of money in Google, they never have hit anything like that. He's a kind of film script version of what happens if we all went back in time and invested in Facebook on the day that it was invented and so on. When the market turns on SoftBank the thing that keeps the market confident that it's still worth something is that he's still clutching onto that Alibaba stake. Even through the pandemic we've seen Alibaba only get stronger and its share price go higher. We all want to be that investor. He actually was that investor. What if it was a fluke? Did he just get lucky on Chinese e-commerce? Then you come back to the puzzle. Is he the world's most astute tech investor or is he the luckiest guy on the planet? He listened to Jack Ma's speech for five minutes and he saw the twinkle in his eyes and decided to invest in the company. I could smell him, right? We are same animal. He believes in the future. He probably has the biggest guts in the world on doing investment. Yeah. Right. Very few people in the world have that courage. Too much. God, sometimes I lose a lot of money. I know. He had so much conviction in Jack Ma and what the potential of Alibaba was that all these times that it was in the money, he never took a penny off the table. He just wanted to ride it. And he's been proven right. It's one thing to find Alibaba, which is already impressive. But it's another to have the conviction to stick with it. The problem is that last autumn Jack Ma made a pretty ill-advised speech in Shanghai and it seemed to take a swipe at regulators. The next thing we know the share price of Alibaba's taking a really, really big hit. Big problem there is that SoftBank is a 25 per cent holder of Alibaba stock. And where goes Alibaba, goes SoftBank. It's kind of hard to describe SoftBank in one word. It has so many pieces. It's investment portfolio is diverse. It has, obviously, its stake in the domestic mobile business. The now separately listed mobile business that has been absolutely core. And a lot of investors have invested in SoftBank because of the stability that this telecoms business offers. The 2006 Vodafone Japan deal, that's a key moment because it creates a ballast to keep the company stable. Almost as important as buying Vodafone's Japan business was the decision to be the launch carrier for the Apple iPhone. You have this outsider offering an American phone to Japanese consumers. And the whole question of whether Japanese consumers would dump the Japanese product in favour of an American product. Like everything he does, it was a gamble and it obviously paid off enormously. The underlying theme, of course, is SoftBank's investment into the future of technology. The current state of the puzzle, it's in flux because one of the key pieces is in the process of being sold, which is Arm. If you asked me four or five years ago what SoftBank is, I would say SoftBank is a company with Arm at the core and Masa running around the world telling everyone that this company and its chip design will be the basis upon which the internet of things will be built off of, all these connected devices. He didn't have the money to pay for Arm and so he needed to find people who would put money in to back the transaction. What he does discover is that there's a bunch of capital in the Middle East that just wants to invest with him. And that's how we get the Vision Fund. The Vision Fund launched in 2017 as the world's largest technology fund. The largest investors in the fund were the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia was also a big investor. It was really a marriage of minds between Mohammed bin Salman and Masayoshi Son. On the one hand, a young authoritarian leader who's in a hurry to transform a society and wean it off oil. Tech-obsessed, but is very concerned about looking like dumb money on the global stage. So in comes Masa and says, look, I'm the world's best technology investor and I have Arm and I can see the future of connected devices and you're trying to build these megacities in Saudi Arabia. Let's do this together. Fast forward to today, Arm's operations under SoftBank basically stunk. The high-tech stuff, the stuff that was the future, is basically a cash guzzling, cash burning disaster. If he's nothing else, he is a consummate salesman. He got asked once, so how did you convince Mohammed bin Salman to give you $45bn in an hour? And he says, no, $45bn in 45 minutes. One billion every minute. You've got so much money in a fund. You're not just buying a little part of that industry. You're buying the future of that industry. He got $100bn with which he can say, OK, OK. Maybe the market was one day going to come to the conclusion that this company was going to be the dominant player. But I'm going to leapfrog all of that and just make this company the dominant player by pouring so much money into it.