The Conversation - AKSHAY NAHETA
Fortune India|May 2021
U.A.E.-based Akshay Naheta, 39, is the youngest executive 1 to report directly to SoftBank Group founder Masayoshi Son (“Masa”). As CEO of SB Management and senior vice president, investments, SoftBank, he leads the conglomerate’s investments into publicly traded stocks and other securities. Naheta, an equestrian buff, 2 decodes his stint at the investment giant.
SOURAV MAJUMDAR AND ANSHUL DHAMIJA

A GLOBAL CITIZEN

From being born in Mumbai, to studying in the U.S. and later working in the U.S., Hong Kong, the U.K., and now the U.A.E.—how has the journey been?

I grew up in Mumbai during the 1980s and 1990s in a business family. I had a strong intellectual bent towards mathematics and was passionate about engineering, particularly with regard to automobiles, from a very young age. In 1999, I moved to the U.S. to pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering and subsequently enrolled in the Ph.D. programme at MIT, after graduating at the top of my class. All throughout, I yearned for a job as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley post graduation.

“The pandemic has caused unimaginable challenges for humanity which absolutely should not be ignored by elevated stock prices.”

As fate would have it, the lure of free pizza pulled me into a Deutsche Bank job seminar led by an MIT alumnus. I struck a personal rapport with him and at the end of the conversation he convinced me to drop out of my Ph.D. to pursue a career on Wall Street. I started as an associate with the bank in New York, and a year later relocated to Hong Kong where I ran the equity principal strategies business. In mid-2009, I relocated to London as a trader on the high-yield bond desk and decided to strike out on my own a few months later. In late 2010, I established my own asset management company 3 and joined SoftBank’s Vision Fund in January 2017. The motivation to move away from my own venture to SoftBank was driven by my belief about the powerful network effects— ecosystem, ideas, and knowledge—that the scale of the Vision Fund’s resources would have perpetuated. With the benefit of hindsight, these network effects attributes have made me a better investor and entrepreneur.

My journey has moulded me into a highly adaptable global citizen. It taught me to be open-minded and flexible when confronted with the ever-changing dynamics of the business world.

You are at the forefront 4 of SoftBank’s strategic shift to being an investment holdings entity. How did that thinking come about?

For nearly four decades, Masa has been at the forefront of investing in the technology industry. Since founding SoftBank in 1981, and well into the 2010s, he spent most of his time operating businesses. Chronologically, SoftBank has been focussed on software distribution, broadband, and telecoms, [with Masa] dedicating less than 5% of his time on the company’s investment activities. Masa has been a great operator, which I believe makes him a great investor. For example, in 1996, he launched Yahoo! Japan as a joint venture between Yahoo! and SoftBank, forming the first web search portal in Japan. It has witnessed many successes since its founding, has expanded its business lines, and is currently valued in excess of $35 billion.

However, based on the shareholder returns generated through Masa’s investment acumen, such as Alibaba, Yahoo!, and many others, he’s decided to focus primarily on investing on a go-forward basis.

Today, SoftBank is the largest strategic investor in transformative technologies that we strongly believe will enable the next stages of the Information Revolution. The group’s gross assets, including those of the Vision Fund, are currently valued in excess of $300 billion, a large portion of which is attributable to our stake in Alibaba. 6 Although we remain bullish on the long-term prospects of Alibaba, over time we will increasingly diversify the portfolio by deploying our capital into other transformative technologies and businesses.

What has been your working relationship with Masayoshi Son?

Masa is one of the world’s greatest investors and for all of us working at SoftBank, there is a lot to learn from him. His ability to always focus on the long term and to generate insights on the next big drivers of technological change are unique traits which will ensure that SoftBank continues to be the global leader in investing in disruptive businesses.

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