BUS 191227 Tadashi Yanai-1577459587375
Tadashi Yanai, chairman and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing Co., speaks during the 21st Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg Image Credit: Bloomberg

Tokyo: Fast Retailing Co. Chief Executive Officer Tadashi Yanai is stepping down from SoftBank Group Corp’s board after more than 18 years as a director.

Yanai, Japan’s richest man, will step down on December 31, according to a SoftBank statement on Friday. He is leaving the post to focus on running his own business, SoftBank spokeswoman Hiroe Kotera said. The founder of retail chain Uniqlo has served as a SoftBank board member since June 2001.

With this departure, SoftBank investors lose one of the few board members capable of standing up to Masayoshi Son. The 70-year-old has been reported as a rare voice of dissent when it came to Son’s ambitious and risky acquisitions. The two men, whose respective companies both went public in the same month of 1994, have often engaged in jocular sparring at SoftBank annual shareholder meetings.

At the June meeting this year, Son shared some predictions that were eye-popping even by the standards of the outspoken Japanese billionaire. The value of SoftBank’s investment portfolio could grow 33-fold to 200 trillion yen ($1.8 trillion) in 20 years, he said. The remarks drew laughs from directors while Yanai feigned outrage, urging shareholders to look out for Son “or he will go out of control.”

“I always oppose Son in everything he does,” Yanai said at the gathering. “Dreams are all good, but nothing beats realistic management. Let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

That leaves SoftBank’s board with only a handful of truly independent outside directors: Mitsui & Co.’s Chairman Masami Iijima and University of Tokyo professor Yutaka Matsuo, who joined in June. Jack Ma is an external director, however Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. counts SoftBank as its biggest shareholder. Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, another board member, heads Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is the biggest contributor to Son’s $100 billion Vision Fund.