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SoftBank COO in Talks to Leave After Clash Over Compensation

(Bloomberg) — SoftBank Group Corp. Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure is in advanced negotiations to leave the Japanese conglomerate after clashing with founder Masayoshi Son over his compensation and responsibilities, people familiar with the matter said.

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The 51-year-old Bolivian-American agreed to sell a majority stake in his cellphone distributor to SoftBank in 2013, becoming one of Son’s top lieutenants and a billionaire in the process. Still, Claure, who was SoftBank’s second-highest paid executive in the latest financial year, has often pushed for much more money and authority.

In recent months, he has pressed for as much as $1 billion in compensation because of his contributions, including the turnaround and sale of Sprint Corp. and the listing of troubled WeWork. He also advocated for a spinoff of the Latin American investment fund he oversees for SoftBank, Bloomberg News reported last year.

Claure has floated the idea of resigning in the past without actually doing so. Negotiations are ongoing, and the COO could still decide to remain at SoftBank, the people added.

SoftBank declined to comment.

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. Bloomberg News reported in October it was possible that Claure would leave SoftBank over the disagreement.

Claure, who was promoted to COO in 2018, raised the idea of much higher compensation because of work in tackling difficult operational challenges for Son. Claure took over as chief executive officer of Sprint and led the U.S. carrier’s turnaround, culminating in SoftBank selling the business to T-Mobile US Inc. in 2020.

He then helped salvage an investment in WeWork after the company’s failed initial public offering in 2019. He remains chairman of the office-sharing business, which finally went public in October under the leadership of CEO Sandeep Mathrani.

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. The initial fund, under Claure’s leadership, has backed 48 companies and generated an internal rate of return of 85% in dollar terms, the company said in September.

Son and SoftBank have had a tumultuous year. The Vision Fund had several blockbuster successes, including Korean e-commerce pioneer Coupang Inc. and 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.

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