Michel Combes in surprise departure from SoftBank after five months

Michel Combes NEW.jpg

SoftBank has named a successor to Michel Combes, who has announced his departure after only a few months as CEO of the group’s international arm.

The replacement is Alex Clavel, currently managing partner at SoftBank Group International (SGBI). SoftBank said Combes “has decided to leave SoftBank to pursue new opportunities”.

Clavel is a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley, where he focused on technology, media and telecom M&A. He speaks French, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, said SoftBank – as well as, presumably, English.

The Japanese group said: “He will oversee SBGI’s operations and investment portfolio, including its stakes in Boston Dynamics, SoFi, Fortress, T-Mobile, Arm, among other portfolio companies.”

SoftBank chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said: “Building on more than two decades of experience in corporate development and investing, Alex has long been a trusted leader at SoftBank in multiple locations around the globe. I am confident that his experience – combined with the strong SoftBank team around him – will serve us well as we continue our journey as vision capitalists.”

The sudden departure of Combes (pictured) has surprised the industry, especially as it is only five months since he succeeded Marcelo Claure in the role. Then Son said: “Marcelo has made many contributions to SoftBank during his time here and we thank him for his dedication and wish him continued success in his future endeavours. I have great confidence in Michel Combes and the talented SoftBank team to continue with the great work we have underway at SBGI.”

But that was also just as Son, the founder of SoftBank, was moving into a less prominent role. Today’s announcement showed Son has reasserted his strength in the company.

Combes began his career at France Telecom in 1986 in the external networks division, and then moved to the industrial and international affairs division.

He was technical advisor to the French Minister of Transport and following this served as chairman and CEO at GlobeCast.

He returned to France Telecom in 2003 as CFO and SVP of group finance and from 2006 to 2008 he was chairman and CEO of TDF Group.

He was CEO of Vodafone Europe, and a board member of the Vodafone group. Then, in 2012 Combes became chairman and CEO of SFR and a member of the Vivendi management board.

He was CEO of Alcatel-Lucent in its dying days, as it was being taken over by Nokia for €15.6 billion. Shortly after he became CEO of Altice’s European operations, but was fired because of the company’s worsening financial performance. He was then CFO of Sprint, also in its dying days, as it was merging with T-Mobile US, and moved after that deal was completed to SoftBank, which had been Sprint’s biggest shareholder.