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SoftBank COO Leaves After Clashing With Masayoshi Son Over Pay

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(Bloomberg) — SoftBank Group Corp. said Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure is leaving the company, putting an end to a tumultuous tenure capped by a clash over compensation with founder Masayoshi Son.

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Michel Combes will take over Claure’s responsibility for SoftBank Group International and oversee SBGI’s operating and investment portfolio, the company said in a statement. The announcement confirmed an earlier Bloomberg News report.

“Marcelo has made many contributions to SoftBank during his time here and we thank him for his dedication and wish him continued success in his future endeavors,” Son said in the statement. “I have great confidence in Michel Combes and the talented SoftBank team to continue with the great work we have underway at SBGI.”

The 51-year-old Claure became one of Son’s top lieutenants after selling his cellphone distributor to SoftBank, rising to become COO in 2018. He was the company’s operational guru, helping to turn around the U.S. wireless carrier Sprint Corp. and the troubled co-working startup WeWork.

Claure had pressed for more money and authority in recognition of his work. He sought as much as $1 billion in compensation in recent months, far beyond the 1.8 billion yen ($16 million) he had made in the last fiscal year.

Still, analysts said the announcement was unsettling.

“This is negative as it leaves an impression that the management is in confusion, and that some things aren’t going smoothly,” said Mio Kato, an analyst at LightStream Research in Tokyo. “It’s possible that the current economic environment, which isn’t allowing SoftBank Group’s investment strategy to work out, has led to such problems.”

SoftBank shares rose about 3% in Tokyo trading, but are down more than 50% from their peak last year.

Claure also advocated for a spinoff of the Latin American investment fund he had overseen for SoftBank, Bloomberg News reported last year. Claure argued the Latam spinoff would help build the business and create value for SoftBank, while boosting his own compensation, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Son saw little merit in a spinoff for SoftBank shareholders and thought it would complicate management and governance, the people said. The Latin American venture isn’t as high-profile as SoftBank’s mammoth Vision Fund, but it has grown to $8 billion in assets since its launch in March 2019.

Son and SoftBank have had several successes, including the public debuts of Korean e-commerce pioneer Coupang Inc. and U.S. delivery service DoorDash Inc., which pushed SoftBank’s stock to more than 10,000 yen in March.

But Son’s company has suffered from a barrage of bad news in recent months, including China’s crackdown on its technology companies. SoftBank’s most valuable single investment, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., has been one of the primary targets of Beijing’s antitrust push. SoftBank is also a major backer of Didi Global Inc., the ride-hailing giant that said it would delist from U.S. exchanges only five months after its IPO.

Beyond China, Indian digital payments pioneer Paytm, another SoftBank portfolio company, suffered one of the worst IPO debuts ever by a major technology company.

Then in December, U.S. antitrust officials sued to block SoftBank’s sale of chip designer Arm Ltd. to Nvidia Corp. Bloomberg News reported this week that Nvidia is quietly preparing to abandon its effort to acquire Arm given the regulatory pushback.

“I will forever be grateful for my experience at SoftBank over the last nine years,” Claure said in the statement. “We have invested in some of the most innovative and disruptive companies that will be industry leaders for decades to come.”

(Updates with analyst comment in sixth paragraph)

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