Magazine article Management Today

Books: 'Englishnization' Is the Way to E-Tail Success

Magazine article Management Today

Books: 'Englishnization' Is the Way to E-Tail Success

Article excerpt

A Japanese online pioneer forced staff to speak English. If only his other ideas were as original, says John McLaren.

Market Place 3.0: Rewriting the rules of borderless business
Hiroshi Mikitani
Palgrave Macmillan, pounds 16.99

The core distinguishing characteristics of Rakuten's malls are that the vendors are encouraged to have their own bespoke appearance, rather than having to fit into a template, and are allowed to have a direct dialogue with customers. This 'empowers' the vendors, and we quickly find that this is Mikitani's favourite verb. Like it or not, everyone who works for him, does business with him, gets acquired by him, or buys from him is granted kryptonite levels of empowerment.

The author was a banker for a while and took an MBA at Harvard. I have no idea whether the banker years helped mould him, but Harvard may have played more of a part than he is willing to let on: many of the ideas he trots out as personal insights bear an uncanny resemblance to ones that appear regularly on business courses everywhere.

For example, as you go global, he asserts that it's smarter to create a 'federation', in which staff in any given overseas company have a degree of autonomy and have the chance of rising to the top, rather than an 'empire' in which the centre dominates and people are sent out from the hub to rule. Now, this makes sense and it appears that Rakuten has executed its international development pretty cannily. But it is hardly ground-breaking.

In much the same way, he lets us know that the most important abbreviation within Rakuten is KPI and he helpfully informs his dear readers that this stands for 'key performance indicators'. I genuinely cannot work out whether he knows that KPIs have been used by many corporations for a very long time, or whether he actually thinks he coined the phrase but none of his staff has had the nerve to tell him.

His most dramatic move was to announce one day to his staff in Japan that in future all communication within the company would be in English, a switch he terms 'Englishnization' (yuk). Mikitani wisely consulted no one before dropping this bombshell and I would love to have been a fly on the wall beside the coffee machine 10 minutes after that announcement. …

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