Hopelessly Devoted to the Company

Hopelessly Devoted to the Company

By Hiroshi Mikitani

Hiroshi Mikitani is founder and CEO of the e-commerce company Rakuten. From Marketplace 3.0: Rewriting the Rules of Borderless Business (Palgrave Macmillan). ©2013

When we have found a company that suits our business goals and shares our long-term view of the business, we next look for a key factor in any successful collaboration: a cultural fit. We know that at Rakuten, we do not do business in the same manner as every other company in the marketplace. Rakuten Shugi—the Rakuten Way—is in many aspects unique to us. It is the core of who we are and how we behave every day. There is no element of Rakuten business that does not seek to reflect Rakuten Shugi in everything it does. So when we look for a company to acquire, we discuss the Rakuten Shugi very early on.

Why does this matter so much? Can’t a cultural issue be worked out later? Isn’t this a “soft” issue, not a core reason to buy or not buy a company? I would argue no. In fact, the cultural fit is so important, it must be discussed long before any financial considerations are on the table. Rakuten Shugi is a huge part of why we are successful. A poor fit with Rakuten culture may indicate other problems ahead.

For example, one element of Rakuten Shugi is our Tuesday-morning tradition in which every employee—from me to the newest member of the staff—cleans his or her own workspace. And when I say “clean,” I mean really clean. We pick up the trash. We get down on the floor and clean the area under our desks. We polish the legs of our office chairs. Why? Because it is a manifestation of how we care about this company and about the work we do here.

If there were trash on the floor of your own home, would you step over it and ignore it? No, of course not—you would make sure on a regular basis that your home was clean and presentable. This is because you care deeply for your home and take pride in its appearance. The Rakuten cleanup taps into that same emotional place. When we clean, and when we put our effort into the process, we show our commitment and our devotion to our mission. This is a process by which we all strive to be modest and push back any tendency to arrogance.

I recognize that this weekly cleanup is uncommon. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of another CEO in any other country who polishes his office chair every week. But we hold this particular ritual dear. When we meet with a potential acquisition target, this is one of the cultural discussions we have. Not just about cleaning but more broadly about Rakuten Shugi. We are not looking for obedience or subservience. We are looking for a firm that feels as we do—that the company should be in your heart the same way your home is in your heart, and that everyone should attend to the company with the corresponding attention and devotion.


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