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We have seen entrepreneurs creating livelihoods for innumerable people through their visionary enterprise activities. Some have built on their ingenuity, some have carried forward legacies, while others rose through the ranks – earning and learning along the way, thus being able to inspire and lead successfully. But the role Nikesh Arora, the CEO of the $7 billion Japanese telecom and internet giant, SoftBank, has assumed is completely different from all of that, yet absolutely visionary all the same.

In fact, if we want to talk about being a true visionary, then the role he is essaying right now is that of one who is helping shape the visions of others. Trusting their capability to deliver in not one, or two or three years but a lot longer than that – something like a decade or more, and investing in them heavily with all the investments in the range of $100 million or more.

This he did after spending a decade at Internet search giant, Google, being the number four (or atleast among the top four) leaders of the company. He was doing well enough there – so what would have prompted him to switch to SoftBank – definitley not the hefty pay of $135 million, as he himself has invested about $500 million in SoftBank (buying the shares in his personal capacity). Then what?

This is where the talk of being the visionary to visionaries comes into the picture. Having the funds to invest in companies is a lot different from being able to see the long term vision of a company however small or new it may be, and then backing it fully (not partly), takes extreme courage, business acumen, wisdom and, above all, vision – of the future world, of the company, and of the investment. This is what Softbank has been doing for about two to three decades, and with the onset and rise of an internet-enabled world, the world of eCommerce has been attracting immense interest of the group (as it is now called as SoftBank Group).

Precisely for sharing the same vision as the company and as that of its Chairman, Masayoshi Son, is what perhaps drew Nikesh Arora toward SoftBank from Google.

Early life & Education

While being the son of an Indian Air Force officer didn’t make it any easy for Nikesh Arora, but what it did was to imbibe in him a sense of hard-work and discipline very early in life. Born on 9th February, 1968, in the city of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh (a northern state of India), Nikesh went to study in various Kendriya Vidyalayas (schools meant for children of public servants) and Air Force schools, before doing his electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University – BHU, back then), which he finished in 1989.

Flight to the land of dreams

A year after graduating i.e. in 1990, he left for the U.S. to pursue higher education. With only $200 in his pocket and a few thousand more borrowed from his father towards meeting his higher education expenses, he flew to America and enrolled for a Masters in Finance at the Boston College, and followed it up with an M.B.A. from the Northeastern University.


Surprisingly, for an engineering guy, his first job was at Fidelity Investments, and perhaps this is where he knew where he was headed in the future – engineering or no engineering. In a span of five years at Fidelity he rose through the ranks and was the Vice President Finance by the time he left Fidelity to join another Boston-based finance firm, Putnam Investments, where he worked for the next three years. After tasting leadership at two renowned finance firms, he assumed the role of CEO for T-Mobile, PLC in 2000, and became the Chief Marketing officer of its Europe wing, T-Mobile Europe the following year.

Google and how…

True leadership will get noticed by even the pioneers, as they sense people of their ilk. And so it happened when he joined Google in 2004 as telecom industry analyst (formal role being that of President, EMEA Sales, Marketing & Partnerships, Google Inc.). After serving several key positions he was elevated to become the Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer in 2011 – reportedly the top-four position in the company, in which he stayed until his exodus to SoftBank in September 2014.

SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, and the Indian start-ups saga…

When Masayoshi Son, the leader of Japan’s leading telecom and Internet Company hired Nikesh Arora, many heads turned up. Why did the inspiring and so successful leader bring in someone like Arora. The reason is simple – the man’s relevant and successful experience (be it T-Mobile PLC or Google’s EMEA business) that has turned almost everything he has touched into gold in the few leadership positions. There must also have been another reason, I daresay. Why would visionaries like Larry Page and Sergey Brin bank on somebody like Nikesh if they hadn’t spotter the spark in him? Whether or not it was this, but Son entrusted him with the role and in only a year since joining SoftBank, Nikesh has stamped his mark on the Japanese company.

In just less than a year, Nikesh Arora already directed about 200 billion yen ($1.67 billion) worth of deals that include investments in Indian technology start-ups - Snapdeal, an online marketplace, and taxi-booking service Ola Cabs (per Nikkei Business Daily).

Perhaps Son had already seen this coming and as an indication of the trust and confidence he had in Nikesh’ abilities, named him as his successor – no less an achievement for someone with relatively humble beginnings. He along with Son are now taking the investment world by storm with investments of $100 million or more in companies, especially start-ups, which they feel have a bright and successful future. As for his personality, there are enough hints about it in his various quotes and interviews (some quotes below).


Nikesh Arora is married to Ayesha Thapar.

Other Associations:

Board Member, The Harlem Children's Zone (Feb. 2013 to present)
Board Member, Tipping Point Community ( June 2014 to present)
 I've been restless; I always wanted to do more. I have been ambitious; probably, it's waning a little bit now, but I have always wanted to get up and do more, and have fun while I am doing it.
 India's time has come. There will be a huge amount of growth in the next 10 years in India. Start-ups will create a new kind of consumerism in India.
 There is a big party going on for start-ups, and it's still early in the party, we still have to part for a while, and some will wake up with a hangover." - About valuation of start-ups, and investment in them
 Creating rivalries doesn't create a lot of value. For us, investing in great companies creates a lot of value.
 The venture capital market is already very efficient, especially in Silicon Valley, with lots of people, so we decided that’s not the space we want to play in. We shut down SoftBank Capital to use the resources out there. We want to see other companies and how we can help them scale.
 We first invested in Alibaba 15 years ago and haven’t sold a single share. We don’t have the same pressure as an LP or VC. We want to work with founders. We do not want to scale to work with 50 founders. We are looking for 10 to 15 people who will run billion-dollar companies in the future.
 I only invest in founders who are willing to be my friends, hang out with me and build large companies
 A lot of the math around my compensation is sensational. People don't have the numbers right. Yes, I do get paid well. But if I wasn't adding value. I would give it back.
 I came to the U.S. 25 years ago with $200 borrowed from my father. Now I no longer worry about having a place to live or being able to eat. I figured that if I was going to transition to SoftBank from Google, I would also increase my risk profile, because as we become bigger we get more complacent and take less risks. I decided if I took the same risk as entrepreneurs, no one can challenge if I believe in SoftBank or not.
 My past year with the SoftBank Group has been very rewarding. As a measure of my commitment, I have decided to take a personal bet on the SoftBank Group and ensure an alignment of vision, with our founder and Chairman & CEO Masayoshi Son. This is a large transaction for me, and involves taking an enormous risk in my life once again. However, I am extremely confident about the future of the SoftBank Group and the long-term objectives that we have set out. I intend to work closely with Mr. Son to make the vision a reality.
 The Japanese telecom giant is looking for ways of having a legacy that lasts 300 years by creating the future Bill Gates, Jack Ma, Steve Jobs of the world." - About Softbank's investment in start-ups.
  I have met many entrepreneurs around the world. He (Ritesh) will match them dollar-for-dollar in his maturity and ability to talk about business, ability to absorb and ability to listen, has a long way to go. He is a much smarter 21-year old than I was." - About Ritesh Agarwal (Founder, OYO Rooms)
  This is the right time to be an entrepreneur in the world - not just India. If you want to do something, now is the time to be an entrepreneur, because everybody is looking for smart people to invest in
  All of us who are sitting in governance positions are migrants to technology, and our kids are going to be the natives to technology - because they know how to use these phones much better than you and I, are ever going to do - except we get to set the rules.

Hope viewers caught up the spark…