Nikesh Arora, the heir apparent at Sprint’s parent company, SoftBank Group Corp., is stepping down from the Japanese company in a surprise departure.
SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son made clear that Arora, a former Google executive, wouldn’t get the top executive role in the near future.
Arora’s exit comes a day after SoftBank’s board of directors cleared him of criticisms by investors in SoftBank and Overland Park-based Sprint.
An investor group had called on the board this year to investigate and possibly dismiss Arora in a pointed 11-page letter. They asked whether Arora harbored conflicts of interest at SoftBank because of his role as a senior adviser to the private equity firm Silver Lake. A separate letter to the board of Sprint, which SoftBank controls, asked for his removal as a director there for similar reasons.
A special committee of independent directors that convened to look into the accusations found the claims without merit, SoftBank announced Monday.
Son said those criticisms played no part in the departure. Rather, the founder said he wants to remain at the helm of the company for a few more years, while Arora aspired to be chief executive officer more quickly.
Arora will remain as an adviser to SoftBank.
Son, who had called Arora his likely successor earlier this year, decided he wants to maintain control of the company he built from a computer software distributor into one of Japan’s largest telecommunications and investment holding corporations.
The abrupt departure left analysts questioning the motivation behind the events.
“You can’t really sprinkle any sugar on this one. This shows disunity,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, manager of Japanese equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. “Given how much Son was putting the responsibility of running the business into his hands, to have him not there, I don’t think anyone would say the share price will start going up.”
Son praised Arora, one of the highest-paid company officials in the world, and credited him with playing a pivotal role in Tuesday’s deal to sell a majority stake in Supercell Oy that valued the Clash of Clans developer at $10.2 billion.
But Son said he isn’t ready to let go.
“I’ll be forever young, that’s what I want to keep thinking. I want to keep going until I lose confidence in my physical strength. And I’ll want to keep holding on to the rudder more and more as the day of retirement approaches,” Son said at the briefing in Tokyo, as a smiling Arora looked on.
The Star’s Mark Davis and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.