SoftBank Group announced on Monday that Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has resigned from the Japanese conglomerate’s board, having served as a director for 13 years.
The announcement was made a few hours before SoftBank reported its largest ever annual loss, of 1.36 trillion yen (US$12.7 billion) for the financial year that ended March 31 and an overall net loss of 961 billion yen (US$8.9 billion).
Ma is the latest high profile departure from SoftBank’s board following the departure of Tadashi Yanai, founder and CEO of Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing, who resigned from the board last year to focus on his fashion business.
Ma’s relationship with SoftBank goes back 20 years, with SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son being one of Alibaba’s earliest backers, investing a reported US$20 million in the e-commerce giant in 2000.
A SEC filing from February shows that SoftBank owns around 25.1% of Alibaba shares, estimated to be worth more than $100 billion, which makes it SoftBank’s most valuable investment.
Ma’s resignation is set to become official at SoftBank’s annual shareholder meeting on June 25.
Ma retired as Alibaba’s chairman last year to focus on philanthropy in education.
Ma has recently been involved with efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and has been helping countries in need of assistance during the crisis, providing medical equipment such as face masks and ventilators as countries face shortages.
The other 10 SoftBank board members are due to be re-elected at the June 25 meeting, and the company plans to expand the number of its board members to 13. The company has proposed that SoftBank Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto, the chief executive of US software firm Cadence Design Systems, Lip-Bu Tan and Yuko Kawamoto, a professor at Waseda Business School, both be elected to its board.
The board additions will bring the total number of external board members to four, while Kawamoto will be the first female director. This meets the demands of activist investor Elliott Management, based in the United States, which in February requested that the company improve board diversity. Elliott Management has also requested a new subcommittee to oversee the investment process at the US$100 billion Vision Fund.
SoftBank’s historic losses
Last month, SoftBank said it expected its US$100 billion Vision Fund to lose about US$16.5 billion, mainly due to the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as poor performances from some of the company’s biggest bets.
Through the Vision Fund, which is the world’s largest technology fund, with Apple and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund among its backers, SoftBank bet big on 88 startups with a total of US$75 billion in investments.
Companies such as WeWork, a tech-related office space company that faced collapse even before the pandemic, as well as other portfolios like ride ride-hailing service Uber, Indian hotel chain Oyo and satellite operator OneWeb, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month after SoftBank declined to provide further funding, have contributed to a US$7.5 billion loss of investments for SoftBank.
SoftBank indicated plans to raise over US$11.7 billion using Alibaba shares as part of a US$41 billion sales program to buy back US$4.7 billion of its shares.
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