SoftBank Founder Builds an Empire on Debt and Charm

Last summer, OneWeb founder Greg Wyler flew to Tokyo to visit Japan’s richest man, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son. Mr. Wyler, whose startup wants to beam the internet from satellites in space, wasn’t desperate for funds. But his investors arranged the meeting anyway.

What followed over the next eight-and-a-half hours was classic Masayoshi Son. First, the two bonded over deep technical details of satellite orbits and data transmission, Mr. Wyler said. Then Mr. Son, using a projector and a whiteboard, illustrated how Mr. Wyler’s startup fits into a future where satellites connect billions of internet-enabled devices, robots, cars and people. Mr. Son described intelligent robots performing complicated tasks as if such a world had already become a reality. “It was a conversation with Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Verne wrapped up into one,” Mr. Wyler said. “Masa is kind of like an oracle.”

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OneWeb’s Mr. Wyler remembers the intensity of his first meeting with Mr. Son last summer. After Mr. Son shared his vision of the future with robots and driverless cars, they discussed deal structures and how they could work together. By that point, they had been talking nonstop for seven hours. “Then Masa looked at me and said, ‘You should be flattered,’” Mr. Wyler recalled.  

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“It was a conversation with Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Verne wrapped up into one. Masa is kind of like an oracle.”