Empowering tomorrow’s leaders: Overcoming the status quo to achieve success

April marks the season of new beginnings in Japan – and for many recent university graduates across the country, the start of their professional careers.

On April 1, 2024, Rakuten welcomed its new graduate employees at Rakuten Crimson House, its global headquarters in Tokyo. Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani greeted them personally, taking the opportunity to share advice and welcome them to the Rakuten Group. The following is a transcript of Mikitani’s welcome remarks, edited for clarity.

I am excited to welcome such young, creative and energetic people to the Rakuten Group!

I started Rakuten 27 years ago, when the world was still on dial-up internet. No one believed that people would buy things online then, but we believed that the internet would change the world.

The early days were tough – we signed only a fraction of the merchants we’d hoped to. But we never gave up, and we kept improving every day. We launched the Rakuten Points loyalty program, and began to diversify our portfolio of services.

Many times along the way, people told us to stay in our lane, to focus on online shopping. But we knew we were going to face global competition from hyperscalers like those in Silicon Valley. Before long, we had built out our diverse portfolio of 70+ services that today make up the Rakuten Ecosystem. I believe Rakuten now leads the world in terms of this business concept.

Adapt to survive

We realized early on that the age of AI was approaching, and we laid the foundation at Rakuten by officially changing our internal language to English. Business leaders from all over Japan called the move crazy, but I knew this was the only way we could stay ahead of the competition. Now we communicate seamlessly with people from all over the globe – and hire talented employees from a globally competitive pool of candidates like yourselves across a range of fields.

Six years ago, we took on another new challenge: democratizing the mobile industry. Before Rakuten Mobile, monthly mobile phone bills in Japan were extremely high. People were spending over 7,000 yen of their monthly paychecks just for mobile connectivity, and that figure was growing. We decided to disrupt Japan’s oligopoly. Again, everybody thought it was a crazy idea.

Fast forward four years later, and people are finally starting to realize how good Rakuten Mobile is, and how our technology stands out.

On April 1, 2024, Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani delivered his annual welcome speech to new graduate employees.
On April 1, 2024, Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani delivered his annual welcome speech to new graduate employees.

You are all fresh out of university. When I graduated university, Japan’s economy was thriving. We were number one in the world for per capita GNP, and 14 of the top 20 companies by market cap were Japanese. Now none of them are.

Today, the foundation of the economy is information. Virtual infrastructure, virtual communities, virtual societies are as important as physical infrastructure. Think about finance: money is digital. Shopping is all about information, and information can be digitized, connected with everything.

My message to you through all of this: Get things done.

Mickey Mikitani, Rakuten Group, Chairman & CEO

Now, AI is taking off and it’s more than just a trend: It’s a fundamental change, not just for the IT industry, but for society itself. Everything will be different – not 10, but five years from now. The way we use the internet, the way we think, the way we work; it will all be unrecognizable.

The world is changing rapidly, and unless we take on new, ambitious challenges – unless we push against the status quo – I don’t think we can survive.

Principles for success: Getting things done

20 years ago, we came up with Rakuten’s five principles for success. The first reads, Always Improve, Always Advance. Change is inevitable, and as our environment changes, so will we – that’s why we need to keep improving every single day.

The second principle is to be Passionately Professional. Just like there are professional baseball players, we are professional business players.

The third is to Hypothesize → Practice → Validate → Shikumika. Think around the corner, validate your idea and build a system from it.

The fourth principle is to Maximize Customer Satisfaction. The customer is not just the end consumer, but also our client and partner. Our business is not a zero-sum game – we want one and one to make two. If we win, we want our partners to win too.

Lastly, and most importantly, Speed!! Speed!! Speed!! In this business, we need to move fast.

In the end, I think business is really about whether you can get things done. Of course you need a long-term vision – you need to push the technology further, innovate on new business models, improve customer satisfaction. But bottom line, you need to be accountable. You need to win trust from the people around you – customers, clients and colleagues.

You are about to begin the second phase of your life. It’s going to be very challenging, but also very exciting, because we are now going through the storm of transition. It’s no small change – it’s a transformation. I can’t predict exactly what will happen, but change is inevitable.

My message to you through all of this: Get things done.

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