Top executives at SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund set to leave
A top US executive at SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund is leaving after expressing concerns about “issues” at the technology conglomerate, which has suffered a string of setbacks over the past year, including a soured investment in WeWork.
Michael Ronen, a former Goldman Sachs banker who joined SoftBank in 2017, told the Financial Times he had been “negotiating the terms of my anticipated departure” for several weeks.
Ronen was the managing partner of the Vision Fund’s US investments, leading its bets on transportation and logistics start-ups such as Getaround, GM Cruise and Nuro.
Elsewhere, Business Insider reported that Michelle Horn, a former McKinsey partner who joined SoftBank as its chief people officer last year, has also departed.
SoftBank is also in discussions about Ron Fisher’s future at the company, according to three people briefed on the talks. Fisher is one of founder Masayoshi Son’s longest-serving lieutenants and was a leading advocate of SoftBank’s outsized bet on WeWork, people with direct knowledge of the matter told the Financial Times.
SoftBank says Fisher was “a valued member of the SoftBank family” and was “not going anywhere”.
A series of disastrous investments have shaken confidence in the Vision Fund and left Son, as its driving force, struggling to raise any outside capital for its sequel fund.
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Fisher, SoftBank’s vice-chairman, joined in 1995 and is among Son’s closest advisers. While Son signed off on SoftBank’s $10bn-plus investments in WeWork, it was Fisher who sat on the board of the co-working office-space provider and who worked closest with management on its strategy and growth plans, some of these people said. Fisher could not be reached for comment.
One of the people briefed on the negotiations said that Deep Nishar, a former LinkedIn and Google executive, and Colin Fan, a former Deutsche Bank executive and close associate of SBIA chief Rajeev Misra, are likely to take on Ronen’s responsibilities in the Americas.
The departure of Ronen comes as people close to the discussions said that SoftBank and Son had failed to raise any outside investment for the company’s second Vision Fund.
In July Son unveiled a number of investors including Apple, Microsoft and the National Bank of Kazakhstan for the fund, which he said committed a total of $108bn — even without any funding from the first Vision Fund’s largest outside backers, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
However, none of the would-be investors have yet to firm up their non-binding commitments in the second Vision Fund. Despite that, SoftBank has provided around $5bn in backing for the second Vision Fund to begin making investments, said one person with knowledge of the fundraising efforts.
The Gulf investors who contributed $60bn to the first Vision Fund have become worried about the perception of pouring money into SoftBank funds following several high-profile flops from the first Vision Fund, people familiar with the discussions told the FT.
Lossmaking WeWork ultimately proved a devastating bet for SoftBank as plans to list its shares failed and instead forced it to secure a multibillion-dollar rescue from SoftBank late last year to avoid insolvency.
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SoftBank, which has announced new management at WeWork, is now pressuring other companies it has backed to cut their losses and increase their profits.
TechCrunch reports that the Softbank-funded company, Flexport, will be joining others in laying off 3% of its global staff. Other companies applying staff cuts funded by the Vision Fund include: Zume Pizza (80% of staff laid off), Wag (80%+), Fair (40%), Getaround (25%), Rappi (6%), and Oyo (5%) that have all cut staff to slow their burn rate and reduce their funding needs.
SoftBank’s share price has tumbled 25% since last April when it hit its highest level since the early 2000s before a string of high-profile SoftBank-backed companies had embarrassing stock market debuts — including Uber and Slack.
Some of its poor performance has been masked by share price gains at Chinese ecommerce group Alibaba, which has seen its shares climb sharply and reached a market value of $600bn. SoftBank owns a 25% stake in Alibaba.