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SoftBank makes second hire in India in one month, appoints India head to ante up bets in the country

It roped in former Google India interim head Vikas Agnihotri as its first operating partner in the country.

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In yet another move of doubling down its capacity in the Indian market, Japanese internet giant SoftBank has appointed Manoj Kohli as the country head for India operations, showcasing confidence in Asia’s fastest-growing market.

For the last five years, Kohli was the executive chairman at SoftBank’s renewable energy business SB Energy. Prior to this, he had four-decade of a stint with the Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel at different positions including head of its international expansion operations.

“In this new role, Kohli will be responsible for supporting SoftBank, SoftBank Vision Fund, and their portfolio companies’ interests in India. He will be responsible for government relations and public policy efforts, working closely with portfolio company founders and CEOs to address government and policy issues and secure required approvals to enable their businesses to run smoothly and achieve their full business potential,” local media Times of India quoted a statement from SoftBank.

Kohli’s LinkedIn page has already been changed to reflect the new designation—Country Head, SoftBank India.

This is the second high profile hiring by SoftBank this month for India, reflecting the company’s desire to up its ante in the country. Earlier this month, it brought on board Google India’s former interim head Vikas Agnihotri as its first operating partner in the country, who will work out of Mumbai. It has been setting up its India team in Mumbai since late 2018 when it roped in Sumer Juneja as a partner and head of India for SoftBank Investment Advisers.

In a statement, SoftBank had said Agnihotri will foster closer connections with the region’s technology ecosystem and SoftBank Investment Advisors’ global network.

Last year was one of the worst years for SoftBank at multiple fronts—its second vision fund failed to raise the desired USD 108 billion and had to settle with USD 2 billion; it posted quarterly loss for the first time in the last 14 years due to poor performance of two of its star portfolio companies—WeWork and Uber as their valuations plummeted during their initial public offerings. While office rental startup WeWork had to scratch its IPO, Uber saw its valuation fall from USD 120 billion to USD 45 billion within nine months.

While most of its India investments are doing good, hotel aggregator Oyo has been mired in controversies and might become SoftBank’s next portfolio company that fails it. The USD 10 billion worth hospitality company, Oyo, recently laid off around 1200 employees amidst the business restructuring. While tax officials raided its office in Gurugram, multiple hotels and Indian hotel associations have been protesting against the company’s business tactics.

One of the fastest-growing startup ecosystems globally, India continues to attract the Masayoshi Son-led fund which has placed several high profile bets in multiple technology companies including Paytm, Ola, and Oyo, among others. It recently participated in a USD 1 billion funding round in digital payments unicorn Paytm.