Mikitani was born on March 11th 1965 in Kobe, Japan. Mikitani’s career began in banking then he later started his own consulting firm before he founded Rakuten. Mikitani married his wife Haruko in 1993 and they have two children.
Mikitani attended Hitotsubashi University and graduated with a degree in commerce in 1988. His family has a strong academic background: his father was Japan’s first ever Fulbright scholar to the USA and also taught at Yale for two years as an economist and his brother is a biology professor at Tokyo University. His grandfather was co-founder of photographic firm, Minolta.
After graduating, Mikitani went to work for the Industrial Bank of Japan from 1988 until 1996 with a two-year break between 1991 and 1993 to attend Harvard Business School.
He left the IBJ in 1996 to start his own consulting firm. His reason for doing so was a desire to help revitalize the national economy in the wake of 1995’s Kobe earthquake.
That same year, he realized the potential of online shopping and started moving into high-technology business. He examined various existing business models such as the recently launched Amazon. In February of 1997, he launched the e-commerce business, MDM Inc. along with three other colleagues. The first venture of this new business was to launch an online shopping mall, Rakuten Ichiba, on the 1st May 1997.
They renamed the company Rakuten Inc. in 1999 and it went public on the Japanese stock exchange in 2000. The company quickly grew from a small venture with only six employees to being one of Japan’s e-commerce giants.
From 2010, the company’s focus changed as Rakuten expanded outside of Japan. They acquired several e-commerce and technology linked sites – including Buy.com in the US and Kobo in Canada – as well as stakes in major global companies such as Pinterest and Lyft.
Also in 2010, Mikitani began the process of making English the primary language of Rakuten with the aim of achieving this within two years. Despite criticism from many in Japan at the time, Mikitani said: “English is not an advantage anymore – it is a requirement.”
By 2017, Rakuten had grown from that initial six employees to having over 14,000 employees, and with annual sales of just under $6 billion. They are now the world’s third-largest e-commerce company.
Mikitani has been president of Rakuten since it was founded and was also appointed chairman as of 2001. In addition to his positions with Rakuten Inc., he is also chairman of Rakuten Vissel Kobe football club, chairman of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, chairman of Rakuten travel, director of PriceMinister, Ratuken Kobo, and Rakuten Baseball Club. He is also owner of the latter organization.
Employees at Rakuten’s Japanese facilities have spoken of how Mikitani’s English policy means that canteen menus are all written in English and this means that many employees are unsure of what food they are ordering.