My father, Ryoichi, passed away in 2013 but his words remain with me today. This summer, the book we co-wrote, “The Power to Compete,” was listed by Bill Gates as recommended summer reading. It even appeared on some best-seller lists. This got me thinking again about the broad-ranging conversations we had in his final years about future directions for Japan and our place in the world economy, as well as the guidance he shared with me over the years.
I was an unruly child and never one to get good grades, but my dad never had an unkind word for me. Even when I transferred out of my private junior high school after finding it hard to fit in, he respected my feelings and supported me. Many times when I found myself at a personal crossroads – when I graduated from Hitotsubashi University and was unsure about whether I wanted to go into research or become a businessman, when I quit my job at the Industrial Bank of Japan (currently Mizuho Bank), when I founded Rakuten, when I tried to buy Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) – I always visited my dad in Kobe to ask his advice. Like my wife, my dad was a behind-the-scenes counselor to me.
When we co-wrote “The Power to Compete,” we focused primarily on the challenges facing Japan. We talked about economics and business and government and what needed to happen to these institutions. We discussed what individuals needed to do in order to bring needed change to the marketplace. Still, even as we approached these big issues, we found time in our conversations to address more personal examples of change-making, such as the role of a parent in guiding the growth of a child. My father described his parenting style this way: “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.”
But while he often let me go my own way, I always felt as though he was there for me, especially in my biggest decisions. My father was one person who recommended I choose the name “Rakuten” for my new company.
Were he a traditional parent, I suppose I could have expected advice like, “Stop trying to do things differently from other people.” But dad always supported me, telling me that if I believe something to be essentially correct, I must do it. And, of course, he always reminded me of one thing – a lesson that still guides me as an adult today: If I am going to do something, I had better do it right.