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SoftBank shakes up leadership with ex-Google exec

SoftBank's plans to tap a foreigner as a potential CEO confirm its ambitions to become a global venture capital firm, according to analysts.

The Japanese firm announced on Monday that India-born current vice chairman Nikesh Arora will assume the role of President next month, with CEO Masayoshi Son adding that Arora is his top candidate to eventually succeed him.

The decision highlights SoftBank's plans to return to its roots as a venture capital company and gradually move away from telecoms, explained Amir Anvarzadeh, director of Japan equity sales at BGC Securities Singapore.

"SoftBank is building big stakes in businesses outside of Japan, and most Japanese managers simply don't have the international knowhow, so you need someone with a global presence to carry the venture capital business," said Anvarzadeh.

Son, Japan's richest man, echoed those plans during Monday's earnings conference: "We expect more investments and acquisitions, even more so than now...Going forward, the overseas market will be the main factor for SoftBank."

Arora, previously Google's chief business officer and one of the top earners at the tech firm, is being touted as the perfect man to help SoftBank expand its investment portfolio.

Since joining the company in 2014, Arora has spearheaded SoftBank's aggressive overseas expansion, including committing $10 billion last year to teaming up with Indian technology firms like Snapdeal, taxi app Ola and Housing.com. It's also invested $100 million in Indonesian e-commerce giant PT Tokopedia and splashed out $250 million for a minority stake in Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment.

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"It seems Son and Arora do get along very well, they speak the same language when it comes to investments," said Atul Goyal, senior analyst at Jefferies.

Billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank, and Nikesh Arora, vice chairman.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Billionaire Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank, and Nikesh Arora, vice chairman.

Indeed, overseas investment has always been Son's top priority even before Arora. Son became a shareholder in Alibaba when the Chinese e-commerce giant was still a start-up and made global headlines when he took control of U.S. telco Sprint Nextel in 2012.

"When Son likes something, he's willing to pay any price and because Arora is a tough negotiator, he adds a very valuable angle," Goyal added.

Foreigners in Japan Inc

Apart from expanding SoftBank's global footprint, Arora's promotion also fulfills a key desire of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe has been urging domestic companies to hire more foreign workers to ease the burden of a rapidly aging population, a key element in his structural reform plan known as the 'third arrow.'

A look at recent data suggests his efforts have been paying off. In October, the number of foreigners working in Japan rose an annual 9.8 percent to a record high of 787,627, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

However, Anvarzadeh doesn't expect Arora's promotion to start a broader trend within Japan Inc.

"This is a very Softbank specific story, and it should be noted that SoftBank isn't your typical Japanese company. This won't mark the beginning of Japan Inc adopting outside talent."