Taizo Son, the youngest brother of SoftBank Corp. magnate Masayoshi Son, has become a billionaire after shares of his company GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. soared more than tenfold this year.
The GungHo chairman holds a 27.8 percent stake in the Tokyo-based company. The shares account for almost all of his $3.3 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Taizo Son has never appeared on an international wealth ranking. His older brother’s SoftBank holds a 40 percent stake and was an early GungHo investor in 2002.
GungHo’s flagship app, "Puzzle & Dragons," is the world's best-selling game for Apple Inc.'s iPhones and smartphones using Google Inc.'s Android software, and has been downloaded more than 13 million times in Japan, GungHo says. While free to play, the role-playing game encourages participants to buy and collect characters. It generates about $3 million a day in revenue, according to Macquarie Group Ltd. analyst David Gibson.
"It has become the 'Angry Birds' of Japan, the default game users download and play once they buy a smartphone," Gibson, who has an outperform rating on the stock, wrote in an e-mail interview from Tokyo.
"Puzzle & Dragons" was the world's top-grossing game app for smartphones in March, according to the App Annie Index, which measures revenue and downloads.
Taizo Son, 40, is the youngest of four brothers in a Korean immigrant family. Masayoshi Son, 55, is the second-oldest and is worth $12.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg ranking. They grew up in Tosu, on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
"My younger brother is part of the management team of GungHo and SoftBank is the largest shareholder of GungHo," Masayoshi Son told investors on a SoftBank earnings conference call on Jan. 31. He said GungHo’s run-up this year has helped SoftBank’s results. The company increased its stake in GungHo and made it a subsidiary last month.
Taizo Son owns his GungHo shares directly and through three Japanese holding companies — Heartis Inc., Asian Groove Inc., and Key Light KK. GungHo spokeswoman Kimiyo Ichimatsu confirmed Son’s holdings in the company. Taizo Son declined to comment. Based on an analysis of insider transactions, taxes, and market performance, he may have about $200 million in cash and other investable assets.
SoftBank is Japan’s third-largest mobile Internet provider. It owns stakes in more than 900 publicly traded and closely held Internet companies, including GungHo, Yahoo Japan Corp. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
SoftBank proposed to buy a 70 percent stake in Sprint Nextel Corp. for $20.1 billion in October to form the world’s third-biggest mobile phone company. Sprint accepted the offer. Billionaire Charles Ergen’s Dish Network Corp. bid $25.5 billion to acquire Sprint in April.
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