Tadashi Yanai, the Fast Retailing chief executive and one of Masayoshi Son’s closest advisers, will step down as a SoftBank non-executive director after 18 years to focus on expanding his apparel business.
Since joining in 2001, the 70-year-old founder of the Uniqlo clothing chain was one of the few board members at SoftBank who was openly critical of Mr Son’s penchant for deals and his recent pivot towards the $100bn Vision Fund.
Despite differences in opinion over business strategy, Mr Son, the chief executive of the Japanese technology group, was keen to retain Mr Yanai as a board member, according to people close to the company. His resignation will take effect on December 31.
Another of Mr Son’s closest friends, Nidec founder Shigenobu Nagamori, stepped down from SoftBank’s board two years ago. With Mr Yanai’s departure, the Japanese group will now have only two non-executive directors left.
Fast Retailing said on Friday that Mr Yanai wanted to concentrate on his business, as the world’s third-largest clothing retailer seeks to accelerate its global expansion into new markets including Italy, India and Vietnam.
The company is also investing heavily to improve its logistics and supply chains using robotics as it seeks to adapt to the new era of ecommerce and meet the demands of the “I-want-it-now” generation.
Mr Yanai’s departure comes at a particularly challenging time for Mr Son after SoftBank suffered a $4.6bn writedown on its investment in lossmaking property group WeWork.
Despite the WeWork setback, the billionaire founder of SoftBank has said he wants to continue investing aggressively by launching another $100bn fund.
A month after SoftBank launched its first Saudi-backed Vision Fund in May 2017, Mr Yanai urged Mr Son to stay focused on his core business, saying his role was to say things that the SoftBank chief did not want to hear.
“I realise he has a knack for investing, but if he’s going to make use of his ability, I want him to be successful as an entrepreneur rather than as an investor,” Mr Yanai said in an interview with weekly paper Nikkei Veritas at the time. “I want him to focus on his core business.”
At an earnings presentation last month, Mr Son said he was scolded by Mr Yanai at every board meeting — particularly over the WeWork issue — jokingly calling his friend “a scary external director”.