12. Masayoshi Son, CEO, SoftBank - Most Powerful People in Wireless


Masayoshi Son, CEO, SoftBankWhat makes him powerful:  Before Softbank confirmed in mid-October that it would buy 70 percent of Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) for $20.1 billion, few Americans had heard of Masayoshi Son. Today that is not the case.

The blockbuster deal with Sprint thrust the Softbank founder and CEO into the limelight  in the U.S. market.  He is a confident tycoon swooping in to buy a seat at the table of the U.S. wireless industry and something of a guardian angel investor, giving Sprint the cash and cushion to pay down debt and take the fight to Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T).

What's less clear is why Softbank is making the deal. Since the two companies use different technologies for their 3G networks they won't be getting major economies of scale in smartphones or network gear. Speculation has turned to the fact that both Softbank and Sprint's partner Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) are using 2.5 GHz spectrum for TD-LTE networks. Sprint recently increased its stake in Clearwire to 50.8 percent, but still doesn't control the company, so it's unclear if or when Softbank's deal with Sprint will lead to tighter integration with Clearwire's planned LTE network. Son has said the deal will allow Softbank, via Sprint, to shake up the U.S. market. "When two rich firms rule the market like a duopoly, we see this as a real opportunity for a challenger," he said.

If the rationale behind the deal remains murky, what is clear is Son is not the stereotypical sober Japanese businessman, but something of a provocateur and risk taker. Son, who is Japan's second richest man with a fortune of $7.2 billion, according to Forbes, studied in the United States and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. According to the AP, while there, he invented a pocket translator, which he later sold to Sharp for $1 million. He used that money to start Softbank in 1981, building it from a computer software business into an online and mobile powerhouse.

The confidence he has had in business and in making risky bets--including the 2006 takeover of Vodafone Japan--was on display last month when he explained why he made the Sprint deal. "I'm a man," Son recently said in Japanese, according to the Wall Street Journal. "It's part of my male ego to strive to be No. 1."

Whether or not Son can turn Sprint into a profitable carrier that challenges the status quo remains to be seen. But there's no question he's going to try --Phil

Special Report: Top 25 Most Powerful People in U.S. Wireless 2012