One of the biggest payoffs from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. going public will belong to Japan’s Masayoshi Son.
The founder and CEO of Japanese Internet firm SoftBank invested $20 million in Alibaba 14 years ago, about two years after it launched, and he now has a 34.4 percent stake in the Chinese e-commerce giant, which filed for its initial public offering in the U.S. on Tuesday. Its valuation is expected to reach $160 billion, putting Son’s stake at an estimated $57.8 billion, according to Bloomberg's calculations.
“The guy is the Warren Buffett of Asia,” Greg Tarr, managing partner at seed fund CrossPacific Capital in Palo Alto, California, told Bloomberg, referring to the legendary American investor.
Internet and telecom firm SoftBank is the biggest shareholder in Alibaba, and it also has holdings in Sprint, Yahoo! Japan, Japanese video game corporation GungHo Online, Chinese social network Renren, and 1,300 other technology businesses, including the nation’s biggest Web portal, Zynga Inc. and BuzzFeed Inc.
Son, considered one of the world’s most savvy investors, made headlines last July when Softbank took control of telecom giant Sprint Corp. He has also expressed interest in T-Mobile U.S. Inc. European wireless operators and music labels may be next on his list, analysts say.
“He plants the seeds and waits for things to grow,” Tomoaki Kawasaki, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Holding Inc. in Tokyo told Bloomberg. “Alibaba is a pretty good example.”
Founded in 1981, SoftBank began as a software retailer and over time morphed into a telecom company spanning two continents. Son was the first to introduce Apple’s iPhone to Japan.
In terms of Son's Alibaba investment, he initially bought $20 million worth of the company before SoftBank subsequently bought additional shares and bonds, according to the filing. Son is expected to play a major role in the e-commerce site after it goes public, and Softbank is guaranteed a board seat and has pledged to keep its stake above 30 percent.