Rakuten, the largest Internet company in Japan, has been on the move since its founding in 1997, expanding from e-commerce into finance, travel, online content, and ownership of professional sports teams. Not satisfied to operate solely within Japan, Rakuten has also leapt into China, the U.S., and Europe through a series of acquisitions and partnerships.
In the last year, Rakuten acquired Buy.com in the U.S. and PriceMinister, the most-visited e-commerce site in France, and opened an online shopping mall in China with Baidu, China’s search-engine giant. In order to achieve its goal of becoming the largest global Internet player, Rakuten is certain to have more acquisitions in store.
Transformation, in other words, is a way of life at Rakuten, which was founded by Hiroshi Mikitani, a former investment banker at the Industrial Bank of Japan, now known as Mizuho Corporate Bank. As Rakuten expands globally, Mikitani understands that senior leaders cannot directly oversee every outpost and new initiative.
Rakuten has developed a core set of management and cultural practices that it expects all businesses to adopt. By 2012, for example, the company will require all employees to be English speakers. It also tries to cross-pollinate best practices across borders and businesses. But otherwise, Rakuten lets local managers manage.
David C. Michael, a senior partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group, recently talked with Mikitani about his philosophy for leading a company that is a study in transformation.