Softbank names new CEO

Softbank has named company insider Junichi Miyakawa (pictured) as the new chief executive of its retail telecoms business.

Miyakawa, who currently serves as CTO of Softbank Corp, will replace existing president and CEO Ken Miyauchi on 1 April. Miyauchi will move upstairs to take on the role of board chairman, while Masayoshi Son will adopt a new title, that of Board Director, Founder. To be completely clear, Masayoshi Son remains in his post as chief executive of Softbank Group, parent of Softbank Corp, the firm’s investment fund activities and other group businesses.

The change comes ahead of a shift in the company’s structure which will see Softbank Corp further embrace cutting-edge technologies and move its telecoms business closer to the Internet company model.

Softbank has been working on naming Miyauchi’s eventual successor for the past couple of years, settling on its technology chief, who has been with the company in various different roles and at various different subsidiaries, since around the turn of the millennium, his career history including a stint at Sprint in the US some five years ago.

Softbank said its nominating committee values Miyakawa’s deep knowledge of AI, 5G and IoT in particular, as well as his business management capabilities.

.”Junichi Miyakawa has been appointed successor in light of his deep knowledge of cutting-edge technologies and his advanced business management capabilities at a time when the business integration between LINE Corporation and the Company’s subsidiary Z Holdings Corporation will take place and the structure of the SoftBank Corp Group…will change significantly in the spring of 2021,” the firm said, in a statement.

Softbank announced plans to merge the LINE messaging app with Z Holdings – formerly Yahoo Japan – in November 2019 with a view to building scale among Internet assets to compete with the big players in the US and China. The Covid-19 pandemic brought delays in the regulatory process last year, but it looks like the move is finally about to happen.

The restructure of those assets is all part of Softbank’s ongoing endeavour to position itself as more than a telecoms operator.

“Under the leadership of Junichi Miyakawa, the Company will further promote its “Beyond Carrier” strategy while advancing toward its second growth phase, making full use of cutting-edge technologies such as AI and 5G together with its Group companies while striving to achieve sustainable growth of the telecommunications business,” Softbank said.

As an international observer, it is sometimes easy to forget Softbank’s roots as a provider of telecoms services, such is its focus on new growth areas outside the traditional sphere of telecoms. In addition to its efforts in adjacent industries and its embracing of new technologies, the company also frequently makes headlines due to the various investments made by its Vision Fund; unless you pay Softbank for your mobile phone, there’s a good chance you view it as more of an investment fund than a telco these days.

The Vision Fund is making headlines for different reasons this week though. According to a Bloomberg report published in the Japan Times, Vision Fund managing partner Colin Fan is leaving the investment fund, making him the second managing partner to jump ship this month. There has been no official comment from Softbank – the report cited anonymous sources – but it’s probably worth keeping an eye on the Vision Fund’s activities in the coming months.

The fund’s fortunes have a profound effect on those of its owner. Covid-19 caused the value of the fund to fluctuate and in turn saw Softbank itself post a hefty quarterly net loss earlier this year, before bouncing back the following quarter. Bloomberg predicts record quarterly profits when Softbank shares its latest set of numbers next month, boosted by the market debut of DoorDash and a share price hike at Uber, and sees profits buoyant going forward as more portfolio companies take the IPO route.

But that aside, the Softbank Corp arm of the business remains a telco, an Internet and a technology company, and it needs a leader with experience in that space. It certainly has that in Junichi Miyakawa.

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