Business / Corporate

Sprint part of Son's quest for the top


Billionaire Masayoshi Son told Softbank Corp. investors Friday how he plans to use the purchase of Sprint Nextel Corp. to transform Japan’s No. 3 mobile carrier into the world’s No. 1.

At the company’s annual meeting, Son is working to convince shareholders his $21.6 billion bid for Sprint will generate growth for the Tokyo-based company as it faces a shrinking population at home. Softbank inched closer to the acquisition after Dish Network Corp. passed on making a new offer by the U.S. carrier’s deadline earlier this week.

The global ambitions of Son, 55, who invited his Twitter followers to attend even if they weren’t Softbank shareholders, are also fueling Sprint’s separate offer for full control of Clearwire Corp. The broadband company, already majority-owned by Sprint, controls valuable wireless airwaves that Softbank needs to roll out a fourth-generation network in the U.S. to challenge leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.

“The money doesn’t matter — it is getting what he wants,” said Edwin Merner, president of Tokyo-based Atlantis Investment Research Corp. “To do well in the U.S. market will not be easy. I think he can do this.”

Softbank, which has about 42 million subscribers with its units, is the fastest-growing mobile carrier in Japan and wants to replicate that success with Sprint by improving networks and services, Son said. Softbank’s shares have gained 70 percent this year, compared with a 25 percent increase in the Topix index.

“We want to be the world’s No. 1 company in various terms, including profit, cashflow and market value,” Son told investors, without setting a timetable.

Softbank, founded in 1981, has made almost 100 purchases since 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company owns stakes in more than 1,000 Internet operations, including Yahoo Japan Corp., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Ustream Inc.

Son is the 65th-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $13.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His fortune has increased by $4.7 billion this year.

Softbank has the backing of Sprint’s board and second-largest investor, Paulson & Co.

Sprint and Softbank have received national security approval for the deal from the U.S. government.

Sprint shareholders are scheduled to vote June 25 on Softbank’s offer. Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint has 55.2 million subscribers after losing 560,000 in the first quarter.

Softbank has gained three of the four regulatory approvals needed do the Sprint deal and the acquisition is going well with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Son said Friday.

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