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Masayoshi Son: “I am a man – and I want to be Number 1”

SoftBank aims for global No. 1 position…acquiring SPRINT on the way to the top

SoftBank: towards global No. 1 with a 300 year vision

To understand SoftBank, and the planned SPRINT acquisition, you need to understand Masayoshi Son – and Masayoshi Son says: “I am a man – and I want to be Number 1”. SoftBank announced FY2012 financial results a few days ago – read below and in our SoftBank-report for analysis, but lets first look at Masayoshi Son.

Yes, Masayoshi Son threatened the Japanese Telecomms and Postal Ministry to set himself on fire inside the Ministry

A few years ago, the Chief-Editor of BusinessWeek visited Japan to interview Masayoshi Son, and the night before the interview over dinner he asked me to suggest interview questions. I suggested to ask if it is true that Masayoshi Son threatened to set himself on fire inside Japan’s Government Ministry for Telecommunications if he is again refused the telecommunications license he needed to build a telecommunications business. Masayoshi Son’s answer: “yes, its true, I threatened to set myself on fire inside the Ministry – but I did not bring any fuel along into the Ministry”. This story shows Masayoshi Son’s passion and extreme determination – and my suggestion became the headline of the article in BusinessWeek – and can still be found online here.

Faced with such passion and determination, Vodafone never had a chance in Japan – can you imagine the Chairman of Vodafone coming over from London to Tokyo to threaten to set himself on fire inside Japan’s telecommunications ministry? Not to mention the demanding customers: several times I personally saw complaining Japanese customers shout down Japanese Vodafone-staffers until these burst into tears and had to be consoled by Vodafone-coworkers… unbelievable, but true.
Japan can be tough for foreign companies…

BusinessWeek: “Apple would never talk to a “small fry” like SoftBank”. Really?

Around the same time, I had to ask BusinessWeek to print a correction to BusinessWeek’s statement, that Apple would never talk to a “small fry” like SoftBank – read the correction here. Well, Apple did talk to the “small fry” SoftBank – and as a result the iPhone is the best-selling mobile phones for two years in a row, and SoftBank is on the way now to become No. 1 in Japan. Read here about a Press Conference discussing the original iPhone introduction by SoftBank to Japan.

SoftBank on the way to US$ 10 billion annual operating profits
SoftBank on the way to US$ 10 billion annual operating profits (Source: our Report on Japan’s telecom sector)

SoftBank aims for global No. 1 position: Japan’s most successful venture start-up – with a 30 year and a 300 year plan

SoftBank had already received a spectrum license and had intended to build up a mobile phone network from zero, when Masayoshi Son grasped the opportunity to acquire Vodafone’s struggling Japan operations – the former Japan-Telecom and J-Phone. Almost overnight Masayoshi Son arranged US$ 15 Billion in loans to fund the acquisition.

The acquisition was announced on Friday March 17, 2006, and the following Monday, Masayoshi Son moved all the remaining staff (minus most expatriates) from the Vodafone-Atago-office to Softbank’s offices in Shiodome, and shut down the Atago-offices to make a clear break. It took Masayoshi Son only a few months until it was clear that the turn-round will be successful. And now with the planned SPRINT acquisition, Softbank is on track to target global No. 1 position.

Softbank and Renewable Energy

Softbank recently also entered the renewable energy business. Read more about Softbank’s renewable energy business in our Renewable energy report (our work on Japan’s energy sector is referenced in IEEE-Spectrum here and here in The Economist).

SoftBank aims for global No. 1 position: Learn more about SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, and his 30/300 year vision for SoftBank

Report on “SoftBank today and 300 year vision” (approx 120 page, pdf file)

Copyright notice:

The photograph of Masayoshi Son is used under Creative Commons license according to Wikipedia.
Copyright details are:
Description English: Masayoshi Son on July 11, 2008
Date 11 July 2008, 12:11:02
Source iPhone 3G Masayoshi Son Masaru Kamikura (
Author Masaru Kamikura ( from Japan
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
( license.

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SoftBank a small fry, writes BusinessWeek …. really??

Comparing Apple and SoftBank

Is SoftBank really smaller than Apple Computer?

In my 20 years of business and work between US/Japan and EU/Japan, I am often surprised how Western executives underestimate economic size and strength of Japan and it’s companies – here is another example:
BusinessWeek writes about the SoftBank/iPod phone, and writes that former Apple executives says that Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs wouldn’t normally tie up with a “small fry” like SoftBank

Is SoftBank really a small fry? Let’s check it out:

SoftBank a small fry? Apple vs SoftBank revenues

Softbank + Softbank-Mobile (former Vodafone KK) combined have substantially higher revenues than Apple Computer for financial years 2005 and 2006 - so clearly Softbank is no 'small fry' at all compared to Apple Computer
Softbank + Softbank-Mobile (former Vodafone KK) combined have substantially higher revenues than Apple Computer for financial years 2005 and 2006 – so clearly Softbank is no ‘small fry’ at all compared to Apple Computer

Revenues of SoftBank + SoftBank Mobile (x-Vodafone KK) were on the order of YEN 2500 Billion (US$ 22 Billion) for the financial year that ended March 31, 2006.
Revenues of Apple Computer were US$ 13.9 Billion for the year ended Sept 24, 2005. – So in terms of revenue the new SoftBank Group (including the recently acquired x-Vodafone KK) is almost twice as large as Apple Computer.

SoftBank a small fry? Apple vs SoftBank market capitalization

On May 19, 2006, market cap of SoftBank and SoftBank Mobile combined was about 20% less than Apple's market cap
On May 19, 2006, market cap of SoftBank and SoftBank Mobile combined was about 20% less than Apple’s market cap

Market capitalization of Apple Computer was US$ 54.9 Billion on May 19, 2006. Market capitalization of SoftBank (US$ 28 Billion) plus SoftBank Mobile Corp (US$ 15 Billion) was on the order of US$ 43 Billion.

BusinessWeek took note of my letter and published a correction on May 21, 2006, which you can find here and here.

More about Japan’s telecom industry sector in our JCOMM-Report
More about Softbank in our Softbank report

Note added on August 13, 2008:

When the iPhone was actually introduced to Japan by SoftBank in 2008, Mr Tetsuzo Matsumoto, CTO and Board Member of SoftBank-Mobile and myself were invited by the Foreign Correspondents Club to hold a Press Conference to comment on the iPhone introduction to Japan – you can find the records here.

SoftBank today and 300 year vision report:

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iPod mobile phones for Japan?

According the headline report in Nihon Keizai Shinbun (the world’s largest business daily) on Saturday May 13th, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs and SoftBank’s Chairman Masayoshi Son met recently, and are developing a joint mobile phone with iPod and iTunes functions.

On March 17 SoftBank announced the full acquisition of Vodafone’s Japan subsidiary – the former J-Phone. Thus SoftBank has acquired a 20% piece of the global Vodafone-Group, propelling SoftBank into the global top-league of telecom players. Within a few days SoftBank announced a string of actions to bring the former J-Phone back onto it’s former growth track. Read below – and read a detailed analysis of the APPLE/SoftBank cooperation in today’s May 15 version of our Mobile Music report.

Is it pure coincidence that DoCoMo and Microsoft announced a music cooperation just one or two days before the APPLE/SoftBank iPod cooperation made headlines?

Apple/SoftBank iPod mobile phones have the potential to:

  • revolutionize Japan’s mobile phone market
  • accelerate the shift of the music industry’s business model from CDROM sales to mobile music for mobile phones
  • make APPLE a global mobile phone handset brand in the NOKIA league
  • put pressure on DoCoMo which has been falling behind in the mobile music sector
  • enable Vodafone to offer Softbank/APPLE/Vodafone/iPod phones globally via Vodafone’s recently announced Softbank joint venture for handset development

Implications of an Apple/SoftBank iPod mobile phone

  • Revolutionize Japan’s music business landscape: about 20% of Japan’s music sales are to mobile phones, while internet music downloads are almost neglibile in comparison. Therefore iTunes cannot have much impact in Japan if limited to internet downloads. iTunes downloads to mobile phones will change the business models of Japan’s music industry.

    • SoftBank could leapfrog DoCoMo which is already about 1-2 years behind KDDI/AU in the mobile music arena.
    • iTunes pricing is far below established mobile phone music prices in Japan
  • Pressure on DoCoMo and KDDI/AU: Success of an iTunes/SoftBank mobile phone will put strong pressure on DoCoMo and KDDI/AU: a “must have” iPod mobile phone can be a huge advantage for SoftBank when number portability arrives this autumn.
  • Global impact: Success of an APPLE/SoftBank phone could put APPLE on track towards a global mobile phone brand competing with the NOKIA’s of this world
  • Impact on Apple: APPLE could leverage it’s design power, it’s user interface principles, and brand power into BOTH the mobile phone space (globally), and the mobile music distribution space
  • Impact on global mobile phone business landscape: APPLE could become the challenger in the global mobile phone handset landscape

download latest version of our Mobile Music Japan report (includes analysis of iPod/SoftBank phones)

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