Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
@hmikitani_e
Photo: Mickey with mother Setsuko before departure to Harvard Business School in 1993.

When I was a young boy, perhaps first grade, I came up with the perfect plan to win a race at school.

At least I thought so.

Here’s how I explained it to my mother: I would wait until all my classmates took off from the starting line. Then I would run a wide circle around them, off to the side. Finally, at the last minute, I would cut them off at the front, crossing the finish line first. When I confidently revealed my plan to my mother, she smiled and wished me luck.

Needless to say, my end run was not successful. I waited until my classmates had a head start and then I never caught up with them.

That night, I told my mother that at the next race, I would have a new plan to win. Again, she smiled and wished me well. It was that way for me with my parents. I was always looking for ways to do things differently. Even when they knew my plan would not work, they were confident enough in me to let me find my own way.

I had many opportunities to test this process. At school, I was a troublemaker.

From the very first days, I wanted to break the mold. In PE class, if they said step left, I stepped right. I was sent outside to stand in the school corridor so often, I was the subject of school gossip. My older sister’s classmates used to make fun of her for it. One of my teachers once grew so frustrated, he threw chalk at me. I remember catching it in my hat.

My parents were not upset by this. Throughout my education and as I moved into my life as a professional, they supported me even when I did not follow the rules.  Here is how my late father once described his parenting philosophy:

“I never wanted a home where the parents would simply instruct their children, commanding them to study and so forth. I recognized that each child has their own character and I tried to teach without holding to any set pattern. Probably just about the only lessons that I ever really tried to drill into your heads were things like don’t steal, tell the truth, and don’t bully those weaker than you.”

This support allowed me to be confident, to test my own judgment, to try new ways of approaching things. Because of their support, I did not come out of my early rule-breaking years with a sense of shame or confusion. Instead, I grew up knowing I could try and test and fail and try again until I was successful. This is a pattern I carried into my adult years as an entrepreneur.

On Mother’s Day, we thank our mothers for all they did for us – and I also thank my mother for the things she and my father did not do. Even when my mother knew better, she let me find out for myself.


Ed. footnote: Earlier this year, Japanese author Kenichi Yamakawa published an authorized account of Mikitani’s education and early formative experiences, entitled Mondaiji – or Problem Child.