Ex-Googler leads Softbank invasion of Hollywood

October 3
8:38 AM 2014

Softbank Corp's investment in a Hollywood movie studio represents the coming out party for two new players in the U.S. entertainment industry -- the Japanese telecommunications company and Nikesh Arora, the former Google Inc executive running a new media and internet company.

Two months after unexpectedly decamping from Google for SoftBank, Arora struck a $250 million deal for a minority stake in Legendary Entertainment, announced on Thursday. Earlier, he had tried unsuccessfully to strike a partnership with DreamWorks Animation, sources said.

As CEO of San Carlos, California-based SoftBank Internet and Media Inc, Arora is charged with investing in and operating media and digital media companies, including music, e-commerce and gaming, said one person close to Softbank. Softbank, owned by legendary investor Masayoshi Son, owns U.S. mobile carrier Sprint and is the largest investor in China e-commerce company Alibaba.

At Google, Arora oversaw sales, marketing and partnerships, an outsider's job at a company, where engineering skills are prized above all else.

The buttoned-down and polished Arora, who has a masters degree in business from Northeastern University and previously worked at T-Mobile Europe, became one of the most powerful Google executives, and the highest paid in 2012, when he made $51 million in cash and stock.

Several former colleagues described Arora as very effective at getting results, often by eschewing the collaborative, consensus-based culture within Google.

"He didn't really try hard to convince people that he didn't need to convince," recalled one former Google executive, who declined to be identified. "He would be willing to say 'we need to do this, get it done.' He valued execution."

He also had a reputation for being brutally direct, particularly with people he viewed as unprepared, the former colleagues said.

A representative for Arora declined to make him available for an interview or to respond to comments about him. Google also declined to comment.

The Google business chief rubbed shoulders with Hollywood's elite while selling ads and making deals.

Arora is "perfectly placed" to build Softbank's media portfolio, said Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of advertising group WPP, citing Arora's "knowledge gleaned from his years at Google about the media community."

Arora advocated for Google to acquire online movie company Netflix in 2009, according to one former Google employee who was present when Arora pitched the idea to Google's senior executive team. At the time, Netflix had a market cap of roughly $3 billion, compared to its current $27 billion valuation.

Arora also proposed at the time that Google should acquire LoveFilm, a UK-based streaming video company that was later acquired by Amazon in 2011, the person said.

But the ideas never progressed beyond internal deliberations, as Google executives at the time were more interested in developing ad-supported online video through the company's YouTube website, the person added.


Arora was a frequent attendee at events frequented by media and tech elite, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the Allen & Co conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

"He was very plugged in with the top management at Fox and some of the studios," recalls one former colleague, referring to Twentieth Century Fox, which produced the 2013 comedy film 'The Internship' depicting Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as fictional Google interns.

When Arora ran Google's European, Middle East and Africa operations during his early years at the company, he broke free of the Silicon Valley-based committee which approved all new hires, according to several people then at Google.

Arora convinced the company to let him established his own hiring process, a coup which turned heads throughout the company, the people said.

Arora occupied a large corner office with sweeping views of London, an anomaly in an egalitarian corporate culture where most employees work in open cubicles and where even former Chief Executive Eric Schmidt shared an office with an engineer for several years, according to the former Google manager.

"He made the argument that he had to meet with important people," the person recalled.

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