Masayoshi Son steps down from Alibaba board after 15 years

Masayoshi Son has resigned from Alibaba’s board after 15 years, closing a chapter in a business partnership that has underpinned the most lucrative investment of the SoftBank founder’s career.

Mr Son’s announcement on Thursday came as Jack Ma, the founder of the Chinese ecommerce group, also formally stepped down from SoftBank’s board, where he has served since 2007. 

Despite remaining friends, the two billionaires have taken separate paths in recent years. Mr Ma retired as executive chairman of Alibaba last year and Mr Son has pivoted his focus to running the world’s largest technology fund.

The twin departures — which have been described as mutual decisions — came as Mr Son sought to reassure shareholders that his investment prowess has not waned even after an $18bn writedown at his $100bn Vision Fund meant the group posted its biggest ever annual loss. 

“I have quite a lot of confidence in my capability,” 62-year-old Mr Son said during a livestream of SoftBank’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Thursday, adding that he had “graduated” from Alibaba’s board. Mr Son said he plans to continue as SoftBank chief executive for the next seven to eight years.

In an hour-long presentation that was physically attended by only 23 shareholders, Mr Son said the equity value of SoftBank’s assets had returned to pre-Covid-19 levels. That was partly due to an increase in the value of its Alibaba shareholding, which has grown from a $20m stake in 2000 to be worth over $150bn.

Market turmoil due to coronavirus in March hit the value of some of the biggest bets made by the Saudi Arabia-backed $100bn investment fund, forcing the group to unleash a $41bn asset sale programme.

But Mr Son stressed on Thursday that demand created by the pandemic had boosted Vision Fund investments in Chinese start-ups including online healthcare group Ping An Good Doctor, ByteDance, the owner of video app TikTok, and Zuoyebang, an online tutoring company.

Shares in SoftBank have doubled since hitting a four-year low on March 19, lifted by the asset sale and a share buyback plan.

Most of the sale process has now been finalised with SoftBank expected to raise $20bn by exiting its T-Mobile US stake, $11.5bn by selling shares in Alibaba and $2.9bn from its domestic telecoms unit.