By RYAN KNUTSON in New York and ALEXANDER MARTIN in Tokyo Dec. 7, 2016 WSJ
Masayoshi Son, the brash billionaire who controls Sprint Corp., said Tuesday he would invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 new jobs, following a 45-minute private meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
The telecom mogul, who made his fortune in Japan with SoftBank GroupCorp., announced his investment plans in the lobby of Trump Tower, though he didn’t provide details. Mr. Trump took credit for the investment, saying his November victory spurred SoftBank’s decision.
Mr. Son told reporters he planned to “invest into the new startup companies in the United States.” It would be difficult to create 50,000 jobs entirely by investing in startups, which generally employ few workers. Sprint employs about 30,000 people and has cut jobs to combat losses.
In an interview, Mr. Son said the money will be coming from a $100 billion investment fund that he began setting up earlier this year with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund and other potential partners.
Mr. Son’s plan to pour $50 billion is massive compared with the total amount of capital in venture circles. Venture-capital firms had $163 billion available to invest in new deals as of June 2016, according to research firm Preqin.
In addition to startups, Mr. Son also has his sights on acquisitions as large as $30 billion, a person familiar with his thinking said.
In addition to Kansas-based Sprint, which SoftBank acquired in 2013 for $22 billion, the company also led a $1 billion investment round last year in San Francisco-based online lender Social Finance Inc.
When he acquired Sprint, Mr. Son’s initial plan was to merge the carrier with German-owned T-Mobile US Inc. to take on market leaders AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., but he abandoned the effort after regulators signaled they would reject the plan. Some investors and analysts have said he could make another attempt after Mr. Trump’s election and when a new chairman is appointed to the Federal Communications Commission.
Mr. Son planned to tell Mr. Trump about what happened with T-Mobile, and how he had wanted to invest in the U.S. but the regulatory climate was too harsh so he invested outside the U.S. instead, the person familiar with the matter said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Son declined to comment about his current interest in T-Mobile.
The 59-year-old is known as an ambitious investor who bets on tech and telecom ventures. His company has a large stake in China’s Alibaba Group and most recently bought U.K. chip designer ARM Holdings PLC for $32 billion.
Mr. Son has a history of going straight to national leaders to talk business. In September he met South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and said he intends to invest about five trillion won (about $4.5 billion) in the country’s technology sector. He also has met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pledged to spend billions on the nation’s tech startups and renewable energy projects.
With the new $100 billion fund—dubbed the SoftBank Vision Fund—Mr. Son plans to spend heavily in fields including the so-called Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, deep learning and robotics. He has said he wants to become the Warren Buffett of the tech industry.
SoftBank plans to invest at least $25 billion during the next five years in the fund, while Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund may contribute an additional $45 billion over the same period as the fund’s lead partner. Other investors are still being finalized. Investments are expected to be made over the next five years.
AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson also spoke positively of the economic benefits of a Trump presidency Tuesday, largely because of lower taxes and less government oversight. He expressed hope that “a more moderate approach to some of these regulations is in the making under a Trump administration.”
At a UBS AG conference in New York, he said, “If we achieve any kind of meaningful corporate tax reform I am quite convinced that it is going to change this trajectory in terms of capital investment.” He added that the company’s business plans for 2017 are incorporating scenarios for economics growth to be higher than expected, compared with recent years where the focus was on underperformance.
“I can’t remember the last time I did an upside sensitivity in a business plan, but we are doing an upside sensitivity right now,” he said.