Shein’s billionaire partner creates empire after SoftBank and WeWork – 03/01/2024 – Market

Shein’s billionaire partner creates empire after SoftBank and WeWork – 03/01/2024 – Market


Marcelo Claure’s CV is full of successes: he founded a multinational mobile phone distributor, carried out the complex merger between Sprint and T-Mobile and had surprising success at the Spanish football club Girona, to name a few.

So the 53-year-old Bolivian-American billionaire is bothered that he is probably best remembered for his connection to WeWork, the shared workspace startup that imploded spectacularly after being valued at $47 billion.

Claure was sent in 2019 by his SoftBank boss Masayoshi Son to stabilize the company after it canceled an initial public offering (IPO) amid a dangerous cash shortage.

He oversaw spending cuts and a diminished physical presence of the business, while professing complete confidence in the recovery. But the pandemic dealt the final blow and the company continued to lose billions even as it went public via Spac at the end of 2021.

Now, Claure shapes his own investment empire — with what he learned from Son’s wisdom and mistakes — which he describes with a grandiloquence reminiscent of his former boss.

His family office, the Claure Group, is looking for investments in artificial intelligence and renewable energy (“you can’t be a real investor if you’re not in AI and climate”), has acquired a significant stake in Chinese fast fashion company Shein ( “one of the most iconic companies of our time”), and assesses ways to revolutionize football in the US in the wake of his unlikely success with Girona FC (“probably one of the best teams in the world of football”).

Although Claure left SoftBank in 2022 and WeWork filed for bankruptcy protection (Chapter 11) last year, the drama surrounding the startup has not disappeared.

Earlier this month, its founder, Adam Neumann, emerged as a possible buyer of his previously bankrupt company.

The fact that Neumann, 44, has the capital to make an offer is due in part to Claure, who, as chairman of WeWork, negotiated an exit package that gave Neumann $291 million in cash, plus $578 million from the sale of its shares in WeWork and a $430 million loan from SoftBank.

Claure, who said Neumann has already called him to ask for advice on his bid, has no regrets.

“That was the price we had to pay to be able to regain control of the business,” he said in an interview, noting that Son dictated the terms. “Adam didn’t have to hand over the keys to anyone.”

The WeWork debacle underscores the challenge of escaping the shadow of SoftBank, one of the world’s most idiosyncratic investment firms, with $413.6 billion in assets at its peak in March 2021.

Claure spent eight years working for the Japanese company, first as CEO of Sprint, which was part of the portfolio, and then as chief operating officer of SoftBank.

In this role, he helped execute turnaround plans for companies handpicked by Son. Some of them were acquired at high prices and then sank in value.

His time there made him rich, but not rich enough for him. He left after he and Son were unable to reach an agreement on Claure’s request for a $1 billion fee.

One day in late January, the seven-foot-tall Claure sat in a conference room in his office in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Dressed all in black, his clothes matched the environment in an industrial-chic style. His visit to New York was brief.

Claure, who lives in Miami, spends much of her time on trips that she usually shows on X, posting photos of private jets and posing with politicians, executives, family members and celebrities.

In 2024 alone, he was in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, Madrid for a Girona match, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia — where his new electric boat racing team lost to Tom Brady’s — Abu Dhabi, Doha, Brazil , Argentina, Davos, France and several Caribbean islands.

Claure said he has $4 billion in assets in his privately held company, a number that includes a varying level of debt that he declined to specify. With the help of his chief investment officer, Diego Dayenoff, a former Key Square Group executive, Claure invested in several sectors, including real estate, technology and fashion.

Its highest-profile investment is Shein, which is preparing for a US IPO despite facing concerns about alleged intellectual property rights violations and the sourcing of cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, which has been linked to forced labor.

Last year he bought a majority stake in an Australian engineering company, Ausenco, alongside Eldridge billionaire Todd Boehly, to enhance his knowledge of the mining sector. He has a long-term plan to extract lithium in Chile, Argentina and eventually Bolivia. Claure’s home country is home to the world’s largest lithium reserves, currently controlled by the state.

“Hardly in the history of the world has there been a country that controls a third of the most important raw material, which will drive the energy transition,” he said.

The Bolivian government has allowed certain foreign private companies to partner with the state mining company in processing and extraction, but the metal has not yet been produced in commercial quantities.

“I want to make sure my country utilizes these assets appropriately,” Claure said. His dream is for his lithium mines to power an electric car gigafactory in Mexico or Brazil.

Betting in Latin America

Claure, who previously led SoftBank’s fund for Latin America, continues to invest in the region in his solo career.

He founded Latin America-focused venture capital firm Bicycle Capital in June with former SoftBank colleague Shu Nyatta and with the backing of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala. He also bought a large stake in Brazilian investment firm EB Capital in October.

He’s competing with — and in some cases teaming up with — his former employer when it comes to business. Both Bicycle and SoftBank’s Latin America fund, for example, invested in Brazilian startup Gympass.

He said Bicycle and the SoftBank fund collaborate on business and ruled out any conflict of interest. “I just hope they do well,” he said.

Claure praised Son as “a genius” for his ability to see world-changing trends like AI. But he bristles at the fact that the Vision Fund unit’s poor returns have damaged SoftBank’s reputation despite its successes — many of which, he is quick to point out, occurred during his tenure.

Claure almost joined the Vision Fund team in 2019, but changed course after clashes with CEO Rajeev Misra. Instead, he focused on operations, which included helping run Sprint, ARM Holdings, Fortress Investment Group and SoFi Technologies.

Claure’s first task was a turnaround at Sprint, which involved wading through a thicket of regulatory concerns related to its merger with T-Mobile in 2020.

The experience reinforced his expertise in government relations, which came in handy in his role assisting with Shein’s global expansion. It also earned him a stake in T-Mobile that is now worth more than $1.1 billion.

SoftBank lent Claure $515 million to buy out his stake. The loan is due in July and Claure said he intends to pay it off in full. He also owes SoftBank $196 million for a loan to buy shares in the company.

At SoftBank, Claure was known as the operations man, who executed and implemented. Now, his defining characteristic is exactly what he intends to avoid when managing his family office.

“The recurring theme is that we don’t manage anything,” Claure said of his global investments across multiple sectors. “This is the most successful moment of my life, when I have the power to do what I want, with who I want.”


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