One of Japan’s richest has invested NOK 29 billion in Norwegian technology companies in recent months.
During this week, the Japanese Softbank has spent billions of kroner on buying up large holdings in the Norwegian companies Autostore and Oda, formerly Kolonial.no. Between October last year and January this year, Softbank also acquired the largest owner in the Norwegian quiz sensation Kahoot. In total, Softbank has invested NOK 29 billion in Norway over the past six months.
Behind Softbank is the successful and controversial founder Masayoshi Son (63), who is Japan’s second richest with a estimated fortune of $ 44.6 billion in personal fortune. He is known as a risk-averse investor, who has invested heavily in technology companies such as Netflix, Tesla, Slack, Uber and Amazon through the technology conglomerate Softbank.
Son owns 25 percent of Softbank, which today has a market value of around NOK 1,350 billion. Softbank has holdings in more than 1,000 companies, which have only been followed in recent months by Kahoot, Autostore and Oda.
Quotes Yoda and makes 300-year plans
Masayoshi “Masa” Son built up through investments in internet technology through the 1980s and 90s, and is said to have been so heavily involved in dot com companies that at some point he will have owned 25 percent of the Internet.
«Mr. Internet», As Son was called at the time, suffered billions of dollars in losses when the dot com bubble burst, but his investment in Chinese Alibaba in the year 2000 helped his fortune recover.
– There was something about his gaze. It was the smell of an animal, Son said according to Reuters at the moment when he met Alibaba founder Jack Ma for the first time in 2000 and continued:
– It was the same when we invested in Yahoo when they were still only five or six people. I invested based on my sense of smell.
Son is known for thinking extremely far ahead, and has, for example, made a kind of plan for how the technology conglomerate will grow. the next 300 years.
He is said to have quoted Star Wars character Yoda on several occasions, and warns passionately against singularity – a given event there computers develop a superintelligence which surpasses the human. In May last year, Son compared himself to Jesus when he defended Softbank’s investment strategy – and said that “Jesus was also misunderstood and criticized”.
Former Alibaba director David Wei has said he used to call Son «Mr. Ten Times» because he always thought so big:
– Every time I explained a business plan or model, the first reaction to “Masa” was always: ‘David, can we do this ten times bigger?’. And the times I managed to answer, he would always repeat: ‘But what about ten times more?’.
– Informal and pleasant
Norske Autostore was one of Son and Softbanks recent investments of as much as NOK 23 billion which was made known this week. Autostore’s CEO Karl Johan Lier emphasizes that it is the main owners THL and EQT who have had the most contact with Softbank, but that he has also had a video meeting with Son.
– He was very interested and open to input. He was informal and nice, and we had good discussions about further development of Autostore, says Lier to Nettavisen.
Lier says that he has a very good impression of Softbank.
– There are good people with a strategy that has a lot in mind, including that IT and technology companies like us will be able to open up many opportunities now and in the future.
– Now Softbank has invested in three Norwegian companies in a relatively short time. Do you think there is a special interest in Norwegian companies, or just coincidences?
– Remember that this is a fund that carries out many such transactions weekly. That two of the transactions involve Norwegian companies in the course of a week, I think is nothing but a coincidence, says Lier.
Has sold off and hoarded cash
In the last couple of years, the giant fund Softbank has struggled, not least because of the bet in Wirecard and a not entirely unknown office community bubble that burst in the United States:
Many people remember the spectacular fall of WeWork, which this year was filmed through the documentary WeWork or the making and breaking of a $47 billion unicorn on Hulu. Softbank and its Vision Fund were WeWork’s largest owners, and Masayoshi Son had to endure scathing criticism and gigantic losses.
– My own investment decision was really bad. I regret it in many ways, he said Son afterwards.
The corona pandemic has also led to Son and Softbank, for the first time in the company’s history, having to sell away companies to increase cash.
– I want to be prepared for a worst case scenario, so today we have close to 80 billion dollars in cash on hand, Son said in November last year.
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