This is second in a 10-part series on influential figures in the Heisei Era, which began in 1989 and will end when Emperor Akihito abdicates in April. In Heisei, Japan was roiled by economic excess and stagnation, as well as a struggle for political and social reform. This series explores those who left their imprint along the way.

There's a well-known anecdote about Masayoshi Son, the maverick billionaire founder and chief executive of SoftBank Group Corp. and the man behind the world's largest technology investment fund.

Back in 1981, a 24-year-old Son had launched a software distribution startup with two part-time employees in a cramped office in Fukuoka. Lore has it that one morning he stood on a makeshift podium to deliver an impassioned speech to his staff about how the company would eventually grow to be among the world's giants, counting revenue in the trillions of yen.