Alibaba’s Jack Ma quits SoftBank board after $18B Vision Fund loss

Billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma on on Monday resigned from SoftBank’s board in what is the latest departure by a high-profile ally of CEO Masayoshi Son.

SoftBank didn’t give a reason for Ma’s resignation, but it came the same day that SoftBank’s giant Vision Fund reported a staggering $18 billion annual operating loss — the company’s worst ever — fueled by $10 billion worth of losses at money-losers WeWork and Uber.

The departure of China’s richest man from the board arrives just months after he retired as Alibaba’s executive chairman in September in order to spend more time focusing on philanthropy.

To replace Ma, SoftBank will propose three new board appointments at its June 25 general meeting. The new additions come at the behest of activist investor Paul Singer’s hedge fund Elliott Management, which has pressed the Japanese conglomerate to improve board diversity, and also wants a new subcommittee to oversee the investment process at the $100 billion fund.

Ma’s exit follows the departure of Tadashi Yanai, founder and CEO of Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing, who resigned from the board late last year to focus on his fashion business.

Son, who has been pressured by Elliott to make share buybacks and bolster governance, said SoftBank would raise 1.25 trillion yen against its stake in Alibaba.

“The coronavirus is an unprecedented crisis,” a notably downbeat Son said during his earnings presentation, comparing it to the Great Depression and saying some of his tech unicorns had fallen “into the valley of the coronavirus”.

“I believe some of them will fly over the valley,” he added, standing beside a slide depicting cartoon unicorns dropping into a hole as a lone winged unicorn escaped to the other side.

SoftBank provided scant detail on which companies saw writedowns but offered a sector breakdown showing investments in construction and real estate were worth less than half of cost price, with flagship transportation investments also underwater.

With Post wires.

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