A man exits a SoftBank Group Corp. store in Tokyo, Japan, (Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg)

SoftBank's Vision Fund Promotes Lydia Jett to Partner

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. has promoted Lydia Jett to partner at its $100 billion Vision Fund, the second woman to join the ranks of a group that oversees the world’s largest technology investments.

Jett joined SoftBank four years ago, leading and managing global investments in consumer internet and e-commerce companies. She’s a board member of Tokopedia and Coupang, the largest online marketplaces in Indonesia and South Korea, respectively. She sat on the board of Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart before Walmart Inc. acquired the company last year.

SoftBank's Vision Fund Promotes Lydia Jett to Partner

The promotion “empowers me and my team and other women of the Vision Fund to continue the work that we do,” said Jett, who was a vice president at the private equity firm M/C Partners before joining SoftBank. “It puts another woman in the room. The work is the same work I’ve been doing for years, which is being laser focused on finding the best companies, and building and mentoring the team.”’

With an unprecedented amount of capital, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son and the Vision Fund’s partners are powerful forces in Silicon Valley. All the managing partners are men, with several coming from banking backgrounds. Rajeev Misra, who made his name building up trading operations at Deutsche Bank AG, is chief executive officer of SoftBank Investment Advisers, which oversees the Vision Fund.

Misra said last year that he’s leading an effort to hire more women, including as managing partners. In December, the fund announced the hiring of Facebook Inc. executive Kirthiga Reddy as its first female partner to focus on frontier and enterprise technology globally, working closely with Senior Managing Partner Deep Nishar. Jett, who previously worked as an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and in private equity at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., will continue to work closely with Managing Partner Colin Fan.

William Tanuwijaya, the founder and CEO of Tokopedia, said that Jett has been instrumental in helping the company close its billion dollar-plus fundraising rounds over the past several years and introducing his e-commerce startup to other companies in SoftBank’s portfolio. “She is very honest, the no BS type,” Tanuwijaya said in an email. “She is always there when we need her and supports us -- whether it’s day or night, by phone or in person, regardless of timezone.”

Jett said she identifies and vets companies globally that should be part of the fund, and brings her decisions to Son and an investment committee. Sometimes it takes little convincing, and sometimes it takes a lot, she said. Jett was a board member of Indian e-commerce startup Snapdeal from 2016 to 2017, when she was also observing the massive growth at Flipkart. After Snapdeal walked away from a proposed merger with its rival, Jett worked with Son to make the fund’s $2.5 billion investment in Flipkart in 2017. “It was very controversial when the outside world saw this as a market that Amazon was going to win,” she said.

Jett started spending time with Coupang in 2015. The e-commerce company is a rare success story in a country where 10 family-run conglomerates control more than a quarter of all business assets. Today, the company says that more than half of South Korea’s population has downloaded its mobile app. SoftBank invested $1 billion in the company in 2015, and another $2 billion late last year.

Bom Kim, the founder and CEO of Coupang, said Jett’s advice has been critical in guiding the company through difficult decisions. With the first cash infusion from SoftBank, Coupang built its own fulfillment and last-mile delivery infrastructure.

“I credit her with a big role for us getting where we are,” Kim said. “She spent countless hours with me and the company to really understand the numbers at the ground level.”

The Vision Fund has dozens of stakes in startups involved in everything from ride-hailing, to indoor farming and cancer detection. Son has said he plans to raise a new $100 billion fund every two to three years, pitching his unprecedented strategy as one that would get the world’s best startups to cooperate.

There’s been skepticism about whether SoftBank can corral its giant portfolio of companies to work together. Jett said the support most investors give to startups isn’t close to what the Vision Fund can offer. For example, Coupang and Fanatics, another SoftBank portfolio company, announced last month they were partnering to sell U.S. sportswear and merchandise to consumers in Korea through a 10-year deal. Jett said she introduced leadership at the two companies at the NFL’s Super Bowl last year, and from there SoftBank worked to facilitate the contractual relationship.

Jett’s appointment in noticeable in an industry under heightened scrutiny for its lack of diversity. Only 9 percent of U.S. venture capitalists are women, and about three-quarters of venture capital firms don’t have a single female partner, according to All Raise, a nonprofit advocacy group. Female-founded companies receive 15 percent of total venture investments, and the growth rate of funding to female-founded firms has plateaued over the last four years, according to an analysis by the group.

The Vision Fund has invested about $70 billion into companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. Nearly all of the companies are founded and run by men, according to the fund’s publicly listed portfolio. Jett said she’s focused on working with her portfolio companies to bring in women at the highest levels.

“We have not yet done a good job of backing female-founded companies. That’s a focus area where I think you’ll see us continue to try and source,” Jett said. “We’re backing these big, scaled, fast-moving organizations. If we empower women to be at the senior ranks of the companies, they will become founders.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.