Billionaire Taizo Son ditches Japan to start afresh in Singapore

Mr Taizo Son, president and CEO of Mistletoe Inc, at a DBS workshop on digital transformation on April 17, 2017.
Mr Taizo Son, president and CEO of Mistletoe Inc, at a DBS workshop on digital transformation on April 17, 2017. PHOTO: DBS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore may have just added a new tech billionaire, but it had to lure him from Japan first.

Taizo Son, who built his fortune on hit smartphone game Puzzle & Dragons, has relocated to the nation from Tokyo and plans to invest US$100 million (S$139.69 million) in South-east Asia within five years. The younger brother of SoftBank Group Corp.'s founder said in Singapore on Monday he'd become frustrated by regulation in Japan as well as the country's education system.

"I tried very hard by lobbying the Japanese government: 'Why don't we have a regulatory sandbox to bring some innovative ideas?'," Mr Son told the event arranged by the private bank of DBS Group Holdings. "But the country's too big and very slow to move. But here, even the government, regulators are innovation-minded."

Singapore's high rate of internet use and a reliance on online data-processing has helped propel Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Smart Nation initiative since it was launched in 2014. The program has seen the government, agencies and companies look to use technology to change how things are done, from self-driving buses and traffic management to public transport fares that are charged automatically.

With little crime, low personal tax rates and no capital gains tax, the country has already drawn other billionaires, including Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook.

 

Taizo Son founded gamemaker GungHo Online Entertainment and is now chief executive officer of Mistletoe, a combination of early-stage venture firm, incubator and entrepreneur-in-residence program. His brother Masayoshi Son is chairman of SoftBank and is Japan's second-richest man with a net worth of US$12.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

After moving to the wealthy enclave of Sentosa, Taizo Son expects to receive his permanent residency within three months.

He was partly motivated by his three-year-old son after losing confidence in Japan's education system, which he said has failed to adapt from the approach used to build the company into a postwar industrial giant.

The Japanese system is "extremely terrible" at creating entrepreneurs and Mr Son said he intends to open a school in Singapore after recently opening a new school near Tokyo that encourages children to learn without teachers.

Among his existing investments in the region is games and e-commerce operator Garena, the most valuable startup in Southeast Asia.

At the event, Mr Son laid out his vision for a futuristic city where large vehicles go underground, commuting is done on personal mobility devices and people can shower with water purification systems the size of a suitcase.

"I'm getting an inspiration from Venice because inside Venice there is no car," he said. He added an aspiration to redesign cities away from the industrialized, car-centric model of the 20th century to one that is more "human-centric."