Masa Son says Jesus Christ was also misunderstood

Main backer of WeWork and Compass responds after huge losses

Photo illustration of Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son in The Last Supper (Illustration by The Real Deal)
Photo illustration of Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son in The Last Supper (Illustration by The Real Deal)

Masayoshi Son, whose SoftBank is facing $13 billion in losses thanks to splashy bets on flailing startups, made a surprising comparison on a private earnings call Monday.

When analysts questioned the Japanese conglomerate’s dismal performance, Son at one point responded that Jesus was also criticized and misunderstood, the Financial Times reported, citing three sources who were on the call.

The record losses primarily stemmed from SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund, which has poured billions of dollars into real estate tech startups such as WeWork, Compass, Opendoor and Katerra. The Vision Fund lost $17.7 billion last year after writing down investments including WeWork and Uber. WeWork has seen its valuation plunge to $2.9 billion from $47 billion less than a year ago.

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On the call, Son promised that his Vision Fund would tackle “the biggest challenges and risks facing humanity today.”

The lofty aspirations are reminiscent of the grandiose aspirations of the startups on which he bet. WeWork’s former CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann proposed on a staff retreat that the office startup would “solve the problem of children without parents” and last year revised its mission statement to say that the firm would “elevate the world’s consciousness.”

SoftBank, whose first Vision Fund drew investments from the likes of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment, is now self-funding the second iteration of the investment vehicle.

Two individuals on the call said Son might have used the comparison to show that his reputation could be reevaluated if his investments improve. Perhaps Son hopes that his bets, too, will rise from the dead. [FT] — Danielle Balbi