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Rakuten is going English only. I am going to be really impressed if the
stick with it. I couldn't image my former employer, GMO Internet, doing this.

http://ow.ly/2mcg4

Ben
http://mauilabs.com

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Ben,
I just have watched the video clip. It's really interesting. I think Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani is one of the best CEOs in Japan. I guess he is absolutely serious about making the company grow globally, no matter how strong would be the 'resistence'. To me, it seems the right thing to do if you want to compete in the global market.
That said, can other Japanese companies follow this? I am not sure given the low level of English proficiency among average business person in Japan. Maybe yes, maybe 10 years from now. :-)

By the way, I wonder how Chinese, Korean and other Asian countries are doing.

Mike
Other companies are already following suit. Uniqlo is switching to English-only.

Mikitani is obviously a brilliant guy, but I'm not sure this is a smart move. Its easy for these University of Tokyo guys, but what about everyone else in the company? Telling two Japanese people working in Japan for Japanese customers that they have to speak English to each other at work is excessive. It will lead to rampant inefficiencies and miscommunication.

There is also the issue of fairness. Is this a fair thing to do to the thousands of employees they already have who were never told about this requirement when they joined?

A more sensible and fair policy would be simply requiring English for new employees who work in marketing and business development. People who graduate from the top business schools in Japan and China all speak English anyway. These days its a requirement for admission.
Fabulous video piece, Ben. Hopefully, we can get everyone in the group to see this. This is huge for Rakuten and let us hope that they become a trend setter is this area.
Makoto, check out the link I posted on the Japan biz group from the Wall Street Journal.

I have seen data that Japan is actually fighting with North Korea for the bottom place in English proficiency among the Asian countries.

Not good...but I think it will change really fast At least, I hope so.

Makoto Ishida said:
Hi Ben,
I just have watched the video clip. It's really interesting. I think Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani is one of the best CEOs in Japan. I guess he is absolutely serious about making the company grow globally, no matter how strong would be the 'resistence'. To me, it seems the right thing to do if you want to compete in the global market.
That said, can other Japanese companies follow this? I am not sure given the low level of English proficiency among average business person in Japan. Maybe yes, maybe 10 years from now. :-)

By the way, I wonder how Chinese, Korean and other Asian countries are doing.

Mike
I disagree with you, Dan.

The conversion out of an entire company is a painful, messy process to be sure. you are absolutely right in that respect. But forcing the change on even the backroom staff is actually a giant step forward in bringing your employees along and setting them up for better advancement and compensation.

Otherwise, you end up with a 2 tiered company, with the bottom tier having less mobility, less options, and in many ways, less able to contribute to the global development of the business.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Lenovo's conversion to English in China has, I think, been a huge success but it took time.

Daniel Leuck said:
Other companies are already following suit. Uniqlo is switching to English-only.

Mikitani is obviously a brilliant guy, but I'm not sure this is a smart move. Its easy for these University of Tokyo guys, but what about everyone else in the company? Telling two Japanese people working in Japan for Japanese customers that they have to speak English to each other at work is excessive. It will lead to rampant inefficiencies and miscommunication.

There is also the issue of fairness. Is this a fair thing to do to the thousands of employees they already have who were never told about this requirement when they joined?

A more sensible and fair policy would be simply requiring English for new employees who work in marketing and business development. People who graduate from the top business schools in Japan and China all speak English anyway. These days its a requirement for admission.
Hi David - I guess time will tell :-) Leaving the issue of fairness aside, setting a two year timetable for a company that is 99% Japanese to switch all correspondence to English is unrealistic. This expectation shows a disconnect between the English speaking Ivy League execs and the common worker. The average worker does not have any real proficiency in English. They don't remember their high school English anymore than Americans remember their high school French. A sudden change to English will cause great inefficiencies. A much more practical approach would be making English a requirement for new hires, and simply providing free English lessons for your existing workforce as part of a 5+ year plan.

Then there is the issue of fairness. What if you worked for a law firm that you really liked for years and then were suddenly told you had to switch all correspondence to Japanese within two years or take a hike?

On a related note, my prediction is that Rakuten will continue to do extremely well in Japan, but will have a hard time in foreign markets. I based this on every other Japanese web company that has tried to expand beyond its borders. Its about a lot more than just language. Don't get me wrong. I like Rakuten and I like Mikitani's style. I hope they do well in the US and China, but it will be an uphill battle.

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