SoftBank: ‘We are a small group and can move very fast’

Jonathan Bullock, the company’s COO and a member of the investment committee for its $100bn Vision Fund, said it will invest ahead of a ‘number of seismic’ long term trends.

SoftBank Group, which is said to be in the “final stages” of raising its $100 billion Vision Fund for investment in technology companies, will “hopefully change and redefine a few things,” said Jonathan Bullock, international chief operating officer and managing director of Softbank.

Bullock, a former director of strategy at Google who joined the Japanese telecoms conglomerate a little over two years ago, also sits on the investment committee of the Vision Fund.

On the size of the team that has been assembled to manage the fund in London – which unconfirmed media reports have reported to be around a dozen – Bullock said: “We are a small group of people and can move very fast.”

Bullock was speaking on stage at an event arranged by Jersey Finance in London and discussed SoftBank’s decision to domicile the Vision Fund in Jersey.

For regulatory reasons there was little he could say about the fund itself, Bullock said. “Yes we are seeking to raise a very large fund and it will hopefully change and redefine a few things.”

Assuming the SoftBank Vision Fund reaches its target size of $100 billion, it will be nearly five times the size of largest private equity fund ever, the $21.7 billion Blackstone Capital Partners V, raised in 2006.

While Bullock declined to comment on specifics of the fund, he said “if you understand SoftBank, then you understand a little about the fund.”

SoftBank has a “rich history of investing,” and operates over “very long timescales,” Bullock said.

Within its portfolio of businesses SoftBank has satellite companies, search engines and telecoms infrastructure providers. In the last 12 months SoftBank has acquired UK-based chip-manufacturer Arm Holding and satellite operator Intelsat. Intelsat is being merged with an existing portfolio company and will be sold to the Vision Fund, SoftBank has said.

This week the company took a minority stake in New York-based co-working company WeWork. Media reports have also suggested that Arm and WeWork will also end up in the Vision Fund, and SoftBank has declined to comment on these two assets.

“We look to invest behind a very long-term macro trends,” said Bullock, identifying cleantech, healthcare and telecommunications as areas of interest for the fund. “There are a number of seismic things happening; we are trying to position ourselves ahead of these. We are not in venture capital – the segment of the market is already well served. We are placing bigger bets in companies we think are going to win.”

London was a “natural choice” as a base for the fund’s team, said Bullock. SoftBank, which has its base in Tokyo and has had a presence in California for a couple of years, had decided on London because “it has a good ecosystem and good access to capital,” he said.

“We have a handful of people and those people are on planes, so it is a good place to be,” he added.

Robert Milner, a Jersey-based partner at law firm Carey Olsen who is working on the fund formation, commented on the speed with which SoftBank had established the team, fund and infrastructure. “It has been an experience to work on,” he said. “The thoroughness of being able to build up a team from scratch and satisfy demanding investors on that scale and at that speed: the rest of the world will see this and learn from it.”