I saw that Japanese cellphone company Softbank is making a major investment into Sprint, the third largest cellular operator in the U.S., and since the founder of the company is one of Japan’s more interesting businessmen, I thought I’d write a bit about him. His name is Masayoshi Son (孫正義), and if his family name doesn’t sound particularly Japanese to you, it’s because it’s Korean: Mr. Son was born as a zainichi (“residing in Japan”) Korean, a large minority of people who are born and raised in Japan yet who maintain North or South Korean identify for cultural reasons impossible for Westerners us to comprehend. (Mr. Son took Japanese citizenship in 1990.) While he was in high school, he brashly visited the office of the legendary Japanese businessman Den Fujita, responsible for launching McDonald’s and later Toys R Us in Japan, returning again and again until his business idol agreed to meet with him. Mr. Fujita told him he should go to America to study English and learn how to invest in microchips, as they were the future. Masayoshi got off to a good start, selling a translation device he patented to Sharp for $1 million and using that money to start a company importing Space Invaders machines from Japan to Berkeley during the coin-op video game boom. He slowly grew his empire, founding Yahoo’s successful Japan subsidiary and taking over Vodafone’s cellular operations, eventually bringing the iPhone to Japan. Son, Japan’s second riches man, is a great example of how successful a person can be when he thinks outside the box, something that can be surprisingly difficult for Japanese people to do.
We wish Mr. Son well…I hope he doesn’t 損
(son, Japanese for ‘financial loss’).