SoftBank Operating Chief to Leave as Stock Hits a Rough Patch

SoftBank Group Corp. 9984 2.20% said Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure, who helped clean up problems at the firm’s investments including WeWork Inc. and Sprint Corp., is leaving the company.

Mr. Claure is the latest lieutenant of SoftBank founder and Chief Executive Masayoshi Son to depart the Tokyo-based investment company, which runs the technology-focused Vision Fund and owns a large stake in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. BABA -1.39%

SoftBank shares have fallen by more than half since their peak last year, hurt by Alibaba’s troubles with Chinese regulators and, more recently, a selloff in tech stocks spurred by the prospect of interest-rate increases in the U.S. However, news of Mr. Claure’s departure following reports of tensions between him and Mr. Son lifted the stock price slightly.

In Tokyo trading Friday, SoftBank shares closed 2.2% higher at 4795 yen. That is 55% below the peak reached in March 2021. SoftBank owned nearly a quarter of Alibaba as of its most recent filing and it has been hurt by the sharp fall in the Chinese company’s share price.

Other SoftBank executives who have left include Chief Strategy Officer Katsunori Sago, who resigned in March 2021. Meanwhile, longtime Son colleague Ronald Fisher left the company’s board in June.

SoftBank didn’t give a reason for Mr. Claure’s departure. Mr. Son issued a brief statement thanking Mr. Claure for his contributions and wishing him “continued success in his future endeavors.” Mr. Claure described Mr. Son as a “mentor and friend during my tenure.”

Tokai Tokyo Research Institute analyst Masahiko Ishino said the unexplained parting of ways would likely revive investor concerns about succession plans for Mr. Son, who is 64 and founded SoftBank four decades ago.

SoftBank’s longtime strategy of dumping mountains of cash on promising young companies to create big winners failed dramatically at WeWork and is inviting scrutiny into the fund’s other investments. Here’s a look at Vision Fund’s structure, and how its fast paced investment strategy could make it risky.

Mr. Ishino said it was clear “who is going to be responsible for the nuclear football when the U.S. president can no longer function. If the same happens to SoftBank, we have no idea who will be in charge.”

A SoftBank representative, asked for comment, referred to Mr. Son’s remarks at a shareholder meeting in June 2021. At the time, he said he was always thinking about succession and looking to groom candidates inside and outside the company.

Mr. Son also suggested at the meeting that he could stay in charge until he was 70 or 80 years old. He cited advances in medicine and the example of Warren Buffett, who remains chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. at the age of 91.

The departure of Mr. Claure “means that Mr. Son is becoming alone. Although it isn’t likely to affect SoftBank’s operations, investors will likely become worried that Mr. Son’s management may be slightly more dogmatic through having fewer advisers,” Mr. Ishino said.

Former Sprint Chief Executive Michel Combes will take over Mr. Claure’s role as chief executive of SoftBank Group International, which includes SoftBank’s investments in Latin America.

A 6-foot-6 Bolivian, Mr. Claure first met Mr. Son in 2012, when Mr. Claure was an entrepreneur running a company, Brightstar Corp., that distributed cellphones and resold used handsets. SoftBank ultimately bought Brightstar and put Mr. Claure in charge of Sprint, the money-losing American cellphone provider.

Mr. Claure tried to turn Sprint around while SoftBank pursued its longstanding and ultimately successful attempt to merge Sprint with T-Mobile US Inc. The unwinding of the Sprint stake included a personal investment by Mr. Claure in T-Mobile.

In May 2018, he became SoftBank Group’s chief operating officer and the next year found himself in charge of dealing with another crisis. SoftBank had a controlling stake in WeWork, the shared-office company that nearly collapsed after a failed attempt at an initial public offering in 2019.

WeWork founder Adam Neumann, another Son protégé, left and Mr. Claure took over as executive chairman. He guided the company to an IPO in October 2021.

According to a SoftBank filing in Japan, Mr. Claure earned ¥1.795 billion, equivalent to $15.6 million, in the year ended March 31, 2021, an unusually high level for a Japanese company although not uncommon in the U.S.

Mr. Son has a history of cultivating hard-charging executives for top roles at SoftBank, only to part ways with them later. In 2014, he wooed Nikesh Arora from the company then known as Google Inc. and anointed Mr. Arora as his successor. Two years later, Mr. Arora was gone.

Write to Kosaku Narioka at kosaku.narioka@wsj.com and Megumi Fujikawa at megumi.fujikawa@wsj.com

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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