SoftBank Hires a Veteran Corporate Image-Maker

Once, SoftBank was merely a big Japanese telecommunications company. Now, it is an international technology behemoth with a host of challenges.

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Michael J. de la Merced
Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times

Once, SoftBank was merely a big Japanese telecommunications company. Now, it is an international technology behemoth with a host of challenges.

It is joined at the hip to Saudi Arabia in the midst of the furor over a prominent journalist’s death. And it is fighting hard in Washington to win approval for the sale of Sprint, which it controls, to T-Mobile.

All that is reason to add a politically connected image-maker to its ranks.

SoftBank plans to announce Wednesday that it has hired Gary Ginsberg, a former top adviser to Rupert Murdoch, as its global head of communications. He will be based in New York and report to Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s founder and chief executive, and Marcelo Claure, its chief operating officer.

Ginsberg’s hiring is SoftBank’s latest effort to address obstacles far beyond the business of technology. Ginsberg’s most recent job was at Time Warner, where he was in the middle of the fight to defend its sale to AT&T.

“He is a seasoned hand and one of the most experienced communications executives in the world who will be an asset to both SoftBank and our portfolio of global companies,” Claure said in a statement.

Right now, the Japanese titan should be riding high. Its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund is the biggest technology investment fund in the world, having bought stakes in prominent startups like Uber and the co-working space provider WeWork.

And last year, it finally struck a deal to merge Sprint with T-Mobile to create one of the United States’ biggest wireless carriers, one better able to compete against Verizon and AT&T.

But SoftBank instead is finding itself on the defensive more often. The single biggest backer of the Vision Fund is Saudi Arabia, which has drawn international outrage over the recent killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Istanbul. The controversy has raised questions about whether SoftBank’s close ties will hurt its ability to invest in technology startups with progressive values. (Son and Claure eventually canceled their appearances at a major Saudi investment conference.)

And Sprint’s deal to combine with T-Mobile remains under review in Washington. SoftBank had previously tried to orchestrate a merger of the two, but had been blocked by antitrust regulators.

SoftBank has already taken steps to improve its visibility in Washington, including by hiring Ford’s top lobbyist. Now it is adding another experienced Washington hand.

Ginsberg previously worked as a lawyer in the Clinton White House. After Washington, he joined what was then the News Corporation as director of communications, eventually becoming a senior adviser to Murdoch. Among Ginsberg’s responsibilities was connecting Murdoch to Democratic politicians like the Clintons.

Ginsberg later joined Time Warner, where he became a top lieutenant to the media company’s chief executive, Jeffrey Bewkes. While there, he served as the connection to Washington on multiple instances: In one, he heard out complaints from Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, about CNN’s coverage of the White House.

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