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From Google to SoftBank, Nikesh Arora's amazing journey so far

May 15, 2015 15:26 IST

Just nine months into this new role, Nikesh Arora was made the president of SoftBank and has been named the heir apparent to Chairman Masayoshi Son.

Working for Google is perhaps a dream most Indian graduates foster at some point or another.

But Nikesh Arora, who played key roles at the US-headquartered internet search giant for nearly a decade, had bigger plans for himself.

After reaching the top of the ladder to become the fourth most important person at Google, Arora quit to join Japan's SoftBank in September 2014 as the head of its global internet investments.

Just nine months into this new role, Arora was made the president of SoftBank and this week named the heir apparent to Chairman Masayoshi Son. "He's 10 years younger than me, and he has more abilities than me," Son reportedly said during a press conference.

"The last nine months I've spent with him have made me sure of that, but I'm not going to retire soon."

While this may be the first time that SoftBank has appointed a president, what stands out is that a non-Japanese has been picked up for the job.

Sillicon Valley-based Arora, 47, has been instrumental in growing SoftBank's investments in regions that have high potential for internet businesses, mainly India and Indonesia.

Under his leadership, SoftBank has made several investments in India in a short span.

The Japanese telecommunications and internet major has pumped in nearly $1 billion in internet start-ups in India, and has pledged to invest as much as $10 billion in the country over the next decade. According to industry sources, Arora was closely associated with SoftBank's investments in Snapdeal, Ola (earlier OlaCabs) and Housing.com.

He was also on the board of these companies, but last month he quit the Japanese bank's investment portfolio in India to directly engage with the companies' management.

"Arora is a big supporter of Snapdeal and even though is not on the board now, he is associated with the company as a mentor," says a senior executive of Snapdeal, requesting anonymity.

"He engages with the leadership team when he is around.

He had also been part of one of the townhalls that were held right after SoftBank's investment in the company."

Born in Ghaziabad, Arora finished schooling from The Air Force School in Delhi, as his father worked in the Indian Air Force. He also studied at Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country as his father's transferable job took him from one city to another.

In 1989, he graduated as an electronics engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) (Banaras Hindu University).

After a brief stint with information technology company Wipro, Arora left the country to pursue a management programme in the US.

He enrolled for MBA in marketing from Northeastern University, Boston. After completing his degree, he worked at Fidelity Investments as an analyst, and simultaneously enrolled for a postgraduate course in finance at Boston College.

He reportedly also attended night school for CFA, or Chartered Financial Analyst, and topped his class in 1995.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, in 2013, Arora was the highest paid executive of Google, receiving a package of $57.1 million (around Rs 345 crore), which translated to nearly Rs 1 crore per day.

While his illustrious career has kept him in the news for several years, last year Arora made headlines when he married Vikram Thapar group scion Ayesha Thapar in a lavish wedding at Puglia, on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

The wedding was reportedly attended by Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Even as Arora's appointment to the top job at SoftBank may be a few years away, entrepreneurs in India's red hot start-up ecosystem are excited about the prospects that his promotion brings to them.

They believe Arora in his new role would help them attract a larger share of Son's Yens.

Photograph: Reuters

Itika Sharma Punit
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