Here’s How SoftBank Got an Exclusive iPhone Deal From Steve Jobs

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Masayoshi Son — the founder, CEO, and chairman of  SoftBank — recently revealed to journalist Charlie Rose how he was able to secure exclusive distribution rights for Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone when the device made its debut in Japan. Although SoftBank is only the country’s third-largest carrier, Apple awarded the company an exclusive iPhone distribution deal in 2008. Japan’s second-largest carrier, KDDI, didn’t acquire the iPhone until 2011, and the country’s largest carrier, NTT DoCoMo (NYSE:DCM), only began offering the iPhone in September.

According to Son, he requested a meeting with Apple CEO Steve Jobs about two years before the iPhone launched, in 2007. The SoftBank CEO noted that he is an admirer of Jobs and compared the legendary co-founder of Apple to Leonardo da Vinci, due to Jobs’s ability to marry art and technology.

“I brought my little drawing of an iPod with mobile capabilities and I gave him my drawing, and Steve says, ‘Masa, don’t give me your drawing. I have my own,’” recalled the SoftBank CEO as he laughed. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t need to give you my dirty paper, but once you have your own product, give me for Japan.’ And he said, ‘Masa, you are crazy. We have not talked to anybody, but you came to see me as the first guy — I give to you.’”

Although Son tried to get Jobs to put his promise in writing, the Softbank chief executive recalled that Jobs refused on the grounds that the Japanese entrepreneur didn’t even own a cell phone carrier yet. Son noted that this was before he acquired Vodafone Japan.

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