Denied throne, Nikesh Arora quits Japanese giant SoftBank

Days after RBI’s Raghu ram Rajan stunned the world with his sudden quit notice, another Indian with a global profile is headed for the exit: Nikesh Arora, one of the world’s three highestpaid executives, surprised everyone by announcing Tuesday that he would be stepping down as president and chief operating officer of Japanese telecom and investment powerhouse SoftBank Group at the end of this month. Almost exactly a year ago, another `Global Indian’ and a friend of Arora’s, Anshu Jain, had ma de a similarly abrupt departure as co-chief executive of Deutsche Bank.
Arora, 48, who over his last two years at SBG drew a salary of $208 million (about Rs 1,400 crore), had been all but anoin ted by the company’s billionaire CEO and founder Masayoshi Son as his successor. A few months ago, he had said he would be at SBG forthe next 10 years. To signal his confidence in the company , he bought $483 million (Rs 3,051 crore) worth of its shares, making him its second-largest individual shareholder; he will now sell them back to Son at a “small loss”. SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son had often lavishly praised his deputy Nikesh Arora – he told TOI in a January 2016 interview that he was “very lucky and happy” to have him. The admiration was mutual, with Arora frequently hailing Son as a genius.
But the two-year honeymoon ended when the 58-yearold Son, who has been known to “love and leave” his favoured lieutenants, announced in Tokyo he wouldn’t be hanging up his gloves at 60 as planned: “I’ll be forever young…I want to keep holding to the rudder more and more as the day of retirement approaches.” In response, Arora tweeted that he didn’t want to be a “CEO-inwaiting past his sell-by date”.Arora, who has an outwardly aggressive persona and was Google’s top-paid executive in 2012, was seen by some to be at odds with Japan’s conservative corporate culture, which doesn’t readily welcome outsiders and has a reputation for being resistant to change.
But not everyone is buying the official version, claiming there’s more to the departure than meets the eye. Some shareholders had levelled allegations against Arora’s qualifica tions and conduct, especially about certain investments that they claimed amounted to conflict of interest. A special committee of independent SBG board members was set up to probe the charges. On Monday , the committee exonerated him, leading to speculation that a deal had been struck to let him go in lieu of a clean chit.But people close to him categorically said the two were not connected and added that the timing was an “unfortunate coincidence”. Said one of them, “He was cleared of any wrongdoing a while ago, but due to some procedural issue, it was held up. And because the AGM where he was to be reelected as a representative director is tomorrow, the announcement of his departure had to be made today .”
Arora will continue for another year with SBG as an advisor. During this time, he is expected to keep an eye on SBG’s India investments – totalling about $1.8 billion – that he led in start-ups such as Snapdeal, Ola, Grofers and Oyo. As for his plans post-SBG, friends of his said he hadn’t yet firmed up anything. “He is deeply interested in education, and that’s something he might want to do in India,” said one of them.
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