SoftBank's Marcelo Claure steps down after dispute over compensation

Michel Combes has been appointed chief executive of SoftBank Group International

Marcelo Claure had expected to be paid billions of dollars in compensation over the years but SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son was thinking of much smaller sum. Reuters

Japan's SoftBank Group on Friday said its chief operating officer, Marcelo Claure, is leaving the technology investor, in the latest blow after a string of high-profile departures.

The exit comes after a fallout with founder and chief executive Masayoshi Son over his pay, a source said.

Mr Claure's deputy, Michel Combes — a French former telecoms executive — has been appointed chief executive of SoftBank Group International, SoftBank said.

Mr Claure, who was already one of the highest-paid executives at the technology company after earning a pay package of $17 million in 2020, had been in talks to leave SoftBank for several months and may soon set up his own investment company, earlier media reports indicated.

While Mr Son, 64, has been unabashed about his willingness to pay to attract foreign talent, he heads a publicly listed Japanese company in a country where large payouts to top management are frowned upon by investors.

Mr Claure, who has spent several years inside SoftBank cleaning up messy investments such as wireless carrier Sprint and office-sharing company WeWork, had expected to be paid billions of dollars in compensation over the years. However, Mr Son was looking to pay him a much smaller sum.

Mr Son had discussed a potential structure that could have allowed Mr Claure to be paid much more than his existing pay package but he never committed to it in writing, resulting in a clash that led to the chief operating officer's decision to resign imminently, the source said.

SoftBank and Mr Claure did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The departure of Mr Claure, one of the SoftBank's top decision makers along with Vision Fund head Rajeev Misra, underscores the uncertainty over who might succeed Mr Son.

Tokyo listed with a large retail investor base and a stake in telco SoftBank Corp but primarily focused on technology investing through its Vision Fund unit. With offices in London and California, SoftBank revolves around the personality of Mr Son.

Nikesh Arora, a former top executive at Google, joined SoftBank in 2014 to eventually succeed Mr Son but left in 2016 after Mr Son decided to continue running SoftBank.

Japan's SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son answers questions during a press conference on the company's financial results in Tokyo on November 6, 2019.   Japanese giant SoftBank Group said Wednesday it suffered an operating loss of $6.4 billion in the second quarter, the worst in its history, taking a hit from investments in start-ups including WeWork and Uber. / AFP / Kazuhiro NOGI

"The impact on SoftBank's overall outlook is limited, considering Mr Claure largely works outside Vision Fund," said analyst Kirk Boodry at Redex Holdings.

"They will miss his expertise on Latam investments and as a US-based fixer but the latter is hard to quantify."

While framed by Mr Son's rhetoric about the group's mission to create "happiness for everyone", SoftBank has become known for its thrusting deal-making and workplace politics.

Mr Claure's exit adds to a string of top-level departures from SoftBank over the past few years, including Deep Nishar and Jeff Housenbold from the Vision Fund, with the latter leaving for compensation reasons.

The group's chief strategy officer, Katsunori Sago, who was also seen as a possible successor, left last year.

Bolivian-born billionaire Mr Claure rose through the ranks at SoftBank after the Japanese conglomerate's 2014 purchase of his company Brightstar, going on to become the top boss of Sprint, which eventually merged with T-Mobile US.

Mr Claure also launched SoftBank's first $5 billion Latin American fund in 2019, at a time when no deep-pocketed investor had signed big cheques for start-ups in the region.

He runs the Bolivian football team Club Bolivar and serves as the executive chairman of WeWork.

Updated: January 28, 2022, 5:36 AM