Nov 6, 2019

SoftBank chairman Masa Son admits poor judgment over WeWork

Illustration of SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son in front of money

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde. Photo via Yoshikazu Tsuno/Getty Images

SoftBank’s second Vision Fund “is going to be launched as scheduled” and be roughly the same size as the first, chairman Masayoshi Son said on Wednesday during the Japanese conglomerate’s quarterly earnings, although he declined to share more details.

Why it matters: That’s in spite of the storm of challenges it’s currently weathering, including rumored fundraising woes and its biggest problem child, WeWork.

And speaking of WeWork…. Son’s story is that we’ve all been thinking about this cash lifeline wrong: Because $1.5 billion was already promised for April 2020 (along with $8 billion in a tender and debt), SoftBank is just giving WeWork the money six months earlier, and at a tenth of the cost per share. It’s really a great deal, he argued!

  • Nevertheless, SoftBank Group posted a $6.5 billion loss for the quarter — its first in 14 years. Of that, $4.6 billion was tied to WeWork (much of the rest was from Uber). The Vision Fund posted an $8.9 billion operating loss, though it’s still in the black, for now.
  • Son admitted that he made some poor judgments when it came to assessing WeWork as an investment, including in giving it a valuation of $47 billion.
  • But he also took several opportunities to blame WeWork co-founder and ex-CEO Adam Neumann for the various troubles, given his outsized control over the company and its board.

Yes, but: SoftBank had two seats on WeWork’s board and has been involved since 2017 — so it’s hard to believe that SoftBank was as blindsided as Son wants us to believe. Likely more accurate is Son’s admission that, in many cases, he "turned a blind eye, especially when it comes to governance.”

Go deeper: The complicated future of SoftBank Vision Fund

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