Masayoshi Son's nose for an investment has turned a $20 million start-up punt on Alibaba into a stake worth billions in the Chinese e-commerce giant co-founded and led by Jack Ma.
Son, CEO of Japanese telecoms firm SoftBank Corp, also put money into a young Yahoo Inc, co-founded by Jerry Yang, in 1995, and Yahoo's subsequent investment in Alibaba saw Ma, Son and Yang build Alibaba Group Holding Ltd into one of world's biggest internet companies as China's e-commerce market took off.
"It was the look in his eye, it was an 'animal smell'," said Son of his decision to back Ma when they first met in 2000. "It was the same when we invested in Yahoo ... when they were still only 5-6 people. I invested based on my sense of smell," he quipped in a group media interview in May.
Under pressure from investors, Yang quit Yahoo in early 2012 and gave up his seat on Alibaba's board. He is now a founding partner of AME Cloud Ventures, a San Francisco venture fund.
The three poster boys for Asian technology entrepreneurship, bound by a shared ambition and a taste for sushi and golf, are set to be reunited on Alibaba's board following the firm's long-awaited New York IPO.
The reunion - Yang will be an independent director, while Son will be a director and Ma the executive chairman - is likely to further tighten Ma's control over the company as Son and Yang tend to follow his direction, former Alibaba, SoftBank and Yahoo insiders said.
Prior to the IPO, SoftBank had a 34 percent stake in Alibaba and Yahoo owned 23 percent.
Text: Paul Carsten, Reuters
Image: People walk at the headquarters of Alibaba in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
Image courtesy: Reuters