Rakuten leadership team embraces their Spartan side on annual mountain climb

Ten years is a long time to climb a mountain.

Granted, we are only talking about one climb per year and not a perpetual 10-year hike, but for Rakuten, the executive trek up Mount Tanigawa has become a rock solid tradition.

Rakuten has evolved significantly in the decade since the first excursion to Tanigawa’s summit, as evidenced by the climbing party’s strong international contingent. However, the purpose of the journey remains as unchanged as the crags on the face of the mountain itself: to forge trust among colleagues and foster teamwork united behind a single vision.

Commonly known as the “mountain of death,” Mount Tanigawa is said to have claimed more lives than the mighty Everest. Even for experienced climbers, it demands respect. Yet, while it takes a physical toll, it also generously rewards the soul with a sense of awe and accomplishment.

The experience rang true for Joe De Sena, CEO of Spartan, the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, who announced a new global innovation and branding partnership with Rakuten last month.

“I was surprised when I heard about Mickey, Rakuten’s CEO,” De Sena shared. “When I read up on him and saw that annually he takes his top 100 lieutenants to climb a very dangerous mountain in order to create this team-building, out-of-your-comfort-zone type of experience, I said ‘this is my kind of guy.’”

Mickey's training for a Spartan Race
Rakuten CEO, Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani showing some love to Spartan, a leading obstacle race and endurance brand that Rakuten announced a new partnership with in September 2018.

For Tareq Amin, who joined Rakuten this summer as CTO of its new mobile venture, his inaugural hike left a lasting impact.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s the best team-building exercise I’ve ever had,” he began. “Because firstly our group never left anybody behind. It’s about being together, being one team, and it’s an incredible way to do it.”

Amin continued, “We’re a company that doesn’t work as individuals; we’re a group, a very highly motivated team. I think just being one group, one team, and getting us closer together as leaders will help build synergy so we can really excel.”

A veteran of the hike, Rakuten Group EVP, CIO and CISO Yasufumi Hirai knows full well the challenge that awaits each September. At the same time, he believes the payoff is well worth it. “Even though I’m very worn out physically, I really feel achievement, great teamwork. Particularly, my team helped me a lot, since I’m the slowest person climbing up and down.”

As for Mickey, who donned a Spartan t-shirt for the hike, he summed up the experience upon reaching the summit. “We made it! This is our tenth Mount Tanigawa climb, and we climbed all the way from the bottom, 1,300m in elevation. It was super-challenging, but all the teams worked together to make it to the summit.”

Thanks in no small part to a strong sense of teamwork and united pursuit of a shared goal, everyone that started the 2018 executive team hike returned home safely. Considering the feeling of teamwork and sense of accomplishment that the climb invokes, it’s not surprising that “the hike” is one of Rakuten’s most beloved and rewarding traditions.

Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten's new mobile venture (front right) sharing a laugh with Rakuten executives and Mickey (far left)
Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten’s new mobile venture (front right), Jaron Waldman, CTO of Curbside (center) and other executives sharing a laugh with Mickey (far left) during a break.
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