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Son talks up Silicon Valley hub plans in Sprint bid

Bloomberg

Softbank Corp., bidding to take over Sprint Nextel Corp. in a $20.1 billion deal, is planning a new Silicon Valley office for the U.S. carrier that would employ as many as 1,000 people.

Executives have already started holding monthly meetings in the California technology hub.

Softbank’s headquarters is in Tokyo and Sprint’s offices are in Kansas.

Softbank President Masayoshi Son said he’s looking to inject more of an inventive spirit into Sprint and be an active chairman.

“I’d like to bring Silicon Valley into the mix,” Son said in an interview last week. “We’re bringing Softbank capital, our knowhow and myself to this.”

Son has been laying out his vision for the merger to ward off a counterbid from Dish Network Corp., which offered $25.5 billion for Sprint last month. He spent last week meeting with Sprint shareholders in New York before traveling to California to make his case to West Coast investors.

Son, 55, also owns a mansion in Silicon Valley. He bought a 3.6-hectare estate in the Woodside suburb for $117.5 million in cash last November, according to a source with knowledge of the transaction. During his meetings last week, he pulled up to the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park in a gray Rolls-Royce.

“Silicon Valley is more convenient for me,” Son said.

The move would build on Sprint’s small presence in the area, which is home to Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. Sprint currently has a center in Burlingame and another in San Mateo. Softbank said it hasn’t decided on the location of the new Silicon Valley office, which won’t replace Sprint’s current headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. The employees will come from Softbank and Sprint, as well as new hires, Son said.

The Softbank executive, Japan’s second-richest person, has long-standing ties to the Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he invented a voice-operated multilingual translator and sold the technology to Sharp Corp. in 1979. He also imported “Space Invaders” machines from Japan and leased them to cafeterias in Berkeley, capitalizing on surging demand for video games.

Son’s Silicon Valley lifestyle has provided ammunition to Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen, a fellow billionaire who is trying to undermine Softbank’s Sprint deal. Ergen made a counterbid for Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, as part of an effort to expand into the mobile phone business.

At Dish’s annual meeting earlier this month, Ergen questioned why someone needed a $117 million estate. Ergen’s Colorado home is worth about $1 million, he said, suggesting that he’s more inclined to put his money back into the business. Ergen also drives a Chevy SUV, not a Rolls-Royce.

Softbank’s proposed Silicon Valley office will be focused on “innovation and procurement,” Son said. Sprint’s current management, including Chief Executive Officer Dan Hesse, will remain in place about 3,200 km away in Kansas.

“I would add innovations and excitement,” Son said. “I’m a hands-on guy.”