Masayoshi Son, chairman of Softbank Corp. and Japan's wealthiest person, said Monday that he will soon introduce a
pan-Asian investment plan that will support the advancement of Internet venture firms in South Korea, Japan and China into other Asian countries.
Son, who was in South Korea for the first time in 11 years to attend a renewable energy summit, told reporters that he will continue to invest in the three East Asian countries through stake acquisitions, joint ventures and partnerships, unveiling an ambitious 30-year plan to expand his group.
"Oriental Express is a project that supports Korean, Japanese and Chinese Internet companies to launch businesses in various Asian countries," the Softbank founder said in a Seoul hotel room packed with reporters.
"We will try to invest in various forms small companies, big companies, joint ventures and others," he said.
Softbank has about 800 affiliated companies in Internet, telecommunications, media, online commerce and other fields through partial stake ownership or joint ventures around the world. Its affiliates include China's largest online commerce company and biggest social networking company.
Softbank has invested US$230 million in 127 Korean companies through its venture capital fund and built partnerships with local online game developers, electronics companies, Internet firms and other companies, Son said.
"They will share one thing in common they are specialized for information revolution," said the 54-year-old businessman.
Although South Korea, Japan and China have dynamic and vibrant Internet and mobile markets with high mobile penetration rates and enthusiastic Internet users, foreign companies even Asian firms face challenges entering the three countries.
Google Inc. holds a negligible market share in South Korea and China, and it was less than two years ago that Apple Inc. cracked open the South Korean mobile phone market with the iPhone. NHN Corp., the top Web search engine operator in South Korea, pulled out of the Chinese game market in 2010.
Son, an ethnic Korean who grew up in Japan and was educated in the United States, is seen as one of the rare foreigners who have successfully led businesses in the Chinese Internet market.
His latest investment in South Korea is a joint venture with telecom titan KT Corp. to build an overseas data storage center for Japanese companies. After a March earthquake and subsequent tsunami set off a series of nuclear power plant crises in Japan, he turned his eyes to renewable energy, becoming a vocal proponent of green energy.
Son, whose 31-year-old technology start-up has transformed into a major company in Japan with more profit than Sony Corp. or Toyota Motor Corp., said he will continue to pursue a decentralized, autonomous management style of about 800 Softbank-affiliated entities.
Unlike conglomerates in Japan and Korea that have expanded through wholly-owned subsidiaries under a single company name, Softbank keeps its stake holding in its affiliates to about 20 to 40 percent and has limited the use of its Softbank brand.