An MBA student’s remote internship journey

*Rakuten hires MBA students for its summer internship program from top business schools around the world each year. In 2020, the program attracted 10 interns from Chicago Booth, Haas School of Business, IESE Business School, Kellogg School of Management, London Business School, MIT Sloan, UCLA Anderson School of Management and Wharton School. The following post was written by Adarsh Nair (top right), IESE Business school student and intern in Rakuten’s Corporate Communications Department.

In a few months, I’ll be admiring the beauty of the world-famous Mount Fuji from the 22nd floor of Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo in between short breaks at work, perhaps while sipping on a cup of hot matcha (Japanese tea). These were my first thoughts when I received an offer from Rakuten to be part of its MBA internship program. But with the outbreak of COVID-19, early 2020 bought with it a myriad of challenges, including severe restrictions on international travel. Thus, began my internship journey at Rakuten — remotely.

Rakuten hosted a dinner for IESE students in Barcelona that served as an opportunity for the students to meet and network with IESE alumni working at Rakuten.
Rakuten hosted a dinner for IESE students in Barcelona that served as an opportunity for the students to meet and network with Rakuten team members.

Choosing Rakuten

My first interaction with Rakuten was at a career fair organized by my school — IESE Business School in Barcelona — in September 2019. The company’s presentation stood out. My first impression was that Rakuten is a tech company at heart and is involved in a variety of businesses such as fintech, e-commerce, media, sports and healthcare.

I decided to apply after attending a dinner hosted by the company that night, which gave me the opportunity to learn a lot more about the company culture and Rakuten’s corporate values. I was fascinated by the emphasis the company placed on expanding globally while remaining cognizant of its Japanese roots.

Interviews in Boston and Barcelona

Rakuten participates in IESE’s career forum every year. Most IESE students interested in tech apply to Rakuten, making it competitive to receive an interview invite.

When I talked to the senior students from my business school, they all told me that Rakuten interviews never actually feel like interviews, but are more like conversations to explore mutual fit. I found this to be 100% true. I flew to Boston in October 2019 to meet Melissa Kuwahara, Rakuten Global HR Senior Manager, for a first round of “interviews.” That would be the last of any physical interaction that I would have with the company. My subsequent interviews with HR and Rakuten business units were all online — which I attended from my room in Barcelona.

An offer, the expectations & a pandemic

A few days after my final interview in March 2019, I received an offer to be part of the Rakuten 2020 MBA Internship Program. I had no second thoughts about accepting the offer and the competitive stipend was a big plus! I was excited to be in Tokyo for the summer and all the other interns who I spoke to echoed this sentiment. Apurva Singh, an MBA student at Kellogg and intern at Rakuten Global Sports Division, told me that she was really looking forward to experiencing Japanese culture and Rakuten’s diversity. “I really wanted to understand how people from so many different cultures work together as a team,” she added.

Enter the pandemic. I was worried when I saw several top-tier firms rescind offers they had made or postpone internships indefinitely. However, Rakuten HR assured me that the internship would go ahead as scheduled. The company also had several backup options in case the internship couldn’t happen in person. I had already left Spain during the COVID-19 crisis, and thus, in early May, I was informed that I would be working with Rakuten remotely — from India.

The good, the bad and the ugly of the “virtual experience”

Rakuten HR organizes networking sessions with the company’s top business executives for the MBA interns, which are spread across 7 different time zones.
Rakuten HR organized networking sessions with the company’s top business executives for the MBA interns, who were spread across 7 different time zones.

When the internship started in June, I had my reservations about the effectiveness of the remote experience.  But my team made sure that I was comfortable. They made me feel as if I was an integral part of the team. I had daily “catch-ups” with my manager Mark Mowbray and “huddles” with the team. Thanks to them, I could quickly get up to speed on projects and could effectively contribute to the team starting from the first week. One major challenge was that my team was spread geographically across Japan, India, Germany, U.S. and Canada. This made it impossible to have meetings with everyone in attendance.

Most other MBA interns also told me that they missed the interaction with their teams and fellow interns. “I miss the daily office banter, bumping into people in the hallway… and office life in general!” explained Daniel Faemark, IESE Business School student and intern in the Global Sports Business.

But the virtual experience also offered some unique advantages. Richard Yan, Chicago Booth Student and intern in the Ecosystem Services Department, explained, “I think it’s been convenient sometimes to schedule meetings with people back-to-back and everyone seems pretty receptive.” For some interns like Esther Lee, Wharton School student and intern in Rakuten Mobile’s IoT Business Department, the best thing about the virtual experience was the opportunity to network with anyone in the company globally, from Rakuten Americas to Rakuten, Inc. in Japan, as though they were sharing the same table. 

I’m in my final weeks of my internship as I write this. It has been a wonderful virtual journey so far. I could test my assumptions about Rakuten during the internship, and to my delight I found most of them to be true. I could develop a sound understanding of Rakuten’s many businesses and could network well with executives from some very interesting business units.

I will go back to school in September for the second and final year of my MBA having gained a little more clarity about what I want to do after graduation, thanks to the internship. But one thing is for sure — whatever virtual interaction that I had with my fellow Rakutenians during the remote internship, I hope to leverage that and forge deeper and lasting connections with them when I get to meet them in person!

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