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SoftBank

Uniqlo owner Yanai to leave SoftBank board after 18 years

Charismatic executive to focus on Fast Retailing's global expansion

Tadashi Yanai is stepping down from Softbank Group's board to focus on running Fast Retailing, the Uniqlo franchise operator. (Nikkei montage)

TOKYO -- Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai will leave SoftBank Group's board on Dec. 31, SoftBank announced on Friday, ending an 18-year tenure at the Japanese technology conglomerate.

Yanai joined SoftBank's board as an independent director in June 2001. He is now stepping down to "focus on his main job" of running Fast Retailing, which operates the Uniqlo franchise, according to a Fast Retailing spokesperson. The decision came "as we expand abroad while strengthening our business bases in Japan," the person added. Uniqlo recently opened stores in Vietnam and India.

No decision has been made to appoint a replacement on the board, according to a SoftBank spokesperson.

Yanai's departure comes at a time when SoftBank's governance is under intense scrutiny following the massive loss it suffered from its investment in U.S. shared workspace company WeWork.

One concern is the outsized influence of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, who is also SoftBank's largest shareholder, and whether his instinctive investment decisions are properly checked.

Yanai, who along with Son is one of Japan's most charismatic business leaders, was known for performing a balancing role on the board.

At SoftBank's shareholder meeting in June, Son jokingly said Yanai was "the one who always scolds me the most." Yanai responded, "I always disagree with Son san. He has too much courage."

However, Yanai also showed support for Son by revealing that he was using his salary to buy SoftBank stock.

"No one was as vocal as Yanai," said Shinji Moriyuki, an analyst at SBI Securities. "Fortunately, the turbulence at the Vision Fund is raising critical views from investors and shareholders."

The departure leaves SoftBank with two independent directors: Masami Iijima, chairman of Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, and University of Tokyo professor Yutaka Matsuo.

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